Losin' My Religion

Pat Ryan

Once upon a time there was an extremely attractive presidential candidate that actually sounded like he understood both the importance of the US Constitution and the massive damage that's been done to the document by vicious Neo-Con and Corporatist Thugs, and the quivering Thug appeasers that style themselves as the Democratic Leadership.

The young heir apparent looked and sounded so good, that a lot of us were having a really hard time retaining our cynicism. I am sad to report that my Road to Damascus moment arrived on Thursday, when Obama said that he'd work hard to strip Telcom immunity from the steaming pile of dog guts called the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, that's being charcterized as a compromise by Steny, Nancy, and Harry, but if he couldn't Git 'er Dun, then he'd support  the entire stinking mess in the interest of keeping us safe from the Terriss. Ain't that a Republican, or maybe a New Republican line?

Some of us ancient reactionaries were pretty pissed back in '78 when the Fear Card of the day was Organized Crime and the FISA Court was designed in a manner that made none of their decisions reviewable by a higher court.  To Crazy People this sounded like a violation of the Constitution. Still does. But getting out of the Wayback Machine..........

This is the same Obama that said  a couple of months back that he'd filibuster if it came up, but hey, that was weeks ago, and he's all about Change, right?

Also, last week, Obama asked Move On to fold up their 527 (which can receive unlimited donations from a single donor), and fall back on their PAC (which cannot take contributions above five grand from any individual). Move On was happy to oblige, because the bottom line is that they're a grassroots org and like to work close to the ground. You know, kind like the Obama camaign.

Move On, however is no more amused by Obama's wobbly legs and spinal decay than I, or some of my fellow travellers here on the Big Blue O, and they are out there demanding that Obama keep his damned word.

Now we are going to see if having a support base of 1.4 million small donors is going to make this guy more responsive to our concerns or not. It ain't our job to blindly ride the train while it sails off the rails into the gorge. Nope. Our job is to hold our leaders responsible, sorta like if this were a republic or something. Yeah, we get it that it's all theater, and that guys like our own Earl Blumenauer and Ron Wyden, have gotten permission to oppose this crap just like the so-called Blue Dogs have permission to support it. We're also informed in a patronizing way that we radicals need to understand that prosecution could theoretically still occur in some future Bizarro World.

The Fix is in and the Deal is done. 

Doesn't make it stink any less.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Pat, I have heard that MoveOn (to which I belong and work in the local Council) has called on Obama to stand by his filibuster word.

    But MoveOn.org has not yet tried to mobilize its 2 million plus e-mail network to bring pressure on Obama to do that. I am going to be using what few contacts that go up the MoveOn food chain to press for that.

    You write: Now we are going to see if having a support base of 1.4 million small donors is going to make this guy more responsive to our concerns or not.

    This is the territory of Frederick Douglass' famous quote, "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

    All of us who think this is unacceptable need to be calling the Obama campaign at all levels to demand the Obama filibuster and support other filibustering. And we need to let them know that our piece of the millions of small donations are at stake over whether he makes such an effort.

    He may not win. He doesn't have to. But he has to damn try.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    If the disappointment about Obama and FISA is so obvious here, think about what it's like in the blogosphere that was generally pro-CLinton. Better yet, have a look. It's UGLY.

    I never had any blinded-by-the-light moments either getting on or off the Obama Express. He has never been more than my preferred candidate. So I don't particularly feel betrayed. But I am very unhappy.

  • Eddie (unverified)
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    The reason for Obama’s position is clear: It’s an election year and he wants to win.

    Lets assume he did what us progressives wanted and stayed pure and true to the cause. Meaning, he tries to strip out immunity, loses, and then votes against the bill based on that. Even with his vote against the bill passes and the president signs it into law

    Now let’s look at what’s already going to happen: he will try to strip out immunity, he will lose, and then vote for the bill with his objections notwithstanding. the bill passes and the president signs it into law.

    Either way this is going to become law. Obama can’t change that. So he is making this move to inoculate himself against election year attacks. The whole “he’s a secret Muslim” whisper campaign will only be fed with a “see, he voted to weaken our abilities to fight terrorists, I bet everyone in Iran are dancing in the streets!’ And you KNOW that attack would happen. So yes, he is going to vote for it because, at least in my opinion, to inoculate himself from those attacks.

    You guys in the ivory blogging tower can afford to remain ideologically pure of heart, and that’s great. But I’d rather not spend the next 4 years bitching about President McCain ebcause my candidate refused to amke plitically smart election year decisions. I want to win. It’s one thing if Obama was the deciding vote. He isn’t. This will pass no matter what, and the leadership needs to be taken to task for caving. But Obama has to worry about the election. SO I for one don’t hold this against him one iota.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Harry Reid isn't fussed about FISA, but golly gee, he thinks senators do need to make full disclosure of their home loans.

    Pathetic.

  • registered republican (unverified)
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    And the Obama justifications begin...

  • Chris #12 (unverified)
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    You're right, Eddie--the rage should not be directed against Obama, but against the whole Democratic Party, especially the leadership. Caving in on FISA and the war funding--giving Bush MORE than he requested--shows that the change everyone voted for in 2006 is still a long way off. And I believe that it's thinking like yours--voting for the lesser of two evils, the politics of compromise and moving to the center--that got us to this place.

  • (Show?)

    Eddie, I just disagree with your political analysis.

    Obama has succeeded so far by distinguishing himself from McCain and on identifying the unreasonableness and destructiveness of things flowing from the Bush "commmander-in-chief" doctrine.

    I think if he took a prominent role rallying support against abuse of the constitution it would strengthen, not weaken him. Congress' low favorability ratings are comparable to Bush's and partly that's because they've caved and caved and not fought despite the clear character of the 2006 elections as a referendum on Iraq and related abuses.

    In his approach to FISA, Obama shows himself to be a candidate of the party of Reid, and not to stand for change at all on a huge issue.

  • (Show?)

    You guys in the ivory blogging tower can afford to remain ideologically pure of heart, and that’s great. But I’d rather not spend the next 4 years bitching about President McCain ebcause my candidate refused to amke plitically smart election year decisions.

    I'm going to argue that my tower is not Ivory. In fact, it's not even a tower.

    Obama is not going to lose any more votes to the Smear Machine, one way or another. They will use all of the same lies regardless of his actions, and their target audience is not prone to rational decision making.

    When you are up 15% against your opponent, throw a bone over your shoulder toward Reality Land, or we might just wonder if you plan to stand on any principle at all. We will then wonder why we bothered to go through all of the effort to quash the DLC guys wherever they may lurk, if you look and sound just like 'em.

    Of course we'll still vote for you, but the fabled Internet ATM just might come up with an "Insufficient Funds" notification just when you really need it, and the Fabled Grassroots will not continue to flourish into a lovely green lawn in the absence of basic lawncare principles.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Thanks, Pat. But...

    Re: "...vicious Neo-Con and Corporatist Thugs, and the quivering Thug appeasers that style themselves as the Democratic Leadership."

    Here's a question I've been wanting to ask you Dems for a long time: Why is it that DP politicians are believed to be "weak and quivering", while RP politicians are assumed to be "strong and thuggish"?

    DP presidents have been just as willing as RP presidents to enter into wars of choice and to attack defenseless nations militarily, economically and politically during my lifetime (I hope I don't have to list the examples for historically challenged BO posters).

    Calling Dem non-representatives weak gives them an out: if only we can support the poor dears so they can get some backbone, the story line goes, then they will act on their real values and save us from the ugly, vicious Republicans.

    Well, I don't buy it.

    When I spoke to Nader last month, he also was talking about "spineless" Dems, and I asked him, "Aren't they not spineless, but rather complicit?"

    His answer: "Pick your poison."

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)
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    It's always interesting to see a secret Republican operative invade Blue Oregon's turf.

    Because that's what Pat Ryan appears to be.

    Obama Left-wing purity = John McCain as President of the U.S.

    The last time that logic was used by Ryan's ilk (2000), we ended up with "Tweedledum" George W. Bush as President instead of "Tweedledee" Al Gore. Great track record there, Pat.

    As for the actual issue, I personally think we can have a FISA bill that meets our security and freedom needs without opening up the courts to a lot of tort and civil rights lawyers salivating over contingency fees shimmering in the sky like golden rainbows.

  • LT (unverified)
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    How many people here agreed with every single policy action of Pres. Clinton? (Welfare reform, telecom bill, etc.)

    If you disagreed, would you have preferred he lost in 1992 to GHW Bush?

    Some people here have not always been impressed with Wyden's voting record. Would a Republican in that seat have been better?

    Disagree on issues, but eyes on the prize, folks. Much as I admired certain things done by Gerald Ford of my native Michigan, I'm glad Jimmy Carter was president in the late 1970s. For one thing, that gave many people the opportunity to work in the White House or federal agencies.

    Jump on me if you wish and say I should be a purist. But I think one issue is not enough to derail my support for John McCain's opponent.

  • (Show?)
    Lets assume he did what us progressives wanted and stayed pure and true to the cause. Meaning, he tries to strip out immunity, loses, and then votes against the bill based on that. Even with his vote against the bill passes and the president signs it into law Now let’s look at what’s already going to happen: he will try to strip out immunity, he will lose, and then vote for the bill with his objections notwithstanding. the bill passes and the president signs it into law.

    Obama is the head of the Democratic Party, and the odds-on favorite to become the President. If you think his firm, loud objection to immunity would not pull Senators with him, you're missing the same point that is causing capitulation in the first place--fear. Democratic Senators may fear Bush and Republican backlash, but they surely fear being left on the outside of an Obama presidency even more.

    Furthermore, the idea that Obama's position is the slightest bit politically necessary is absurd. There is no popular clamor for FISA, and Republican attempts to use it against Democrats so far have failed miserably--see Bill Foster's special election earlier this year. In fact, Foster made running against FISA capitulation a part of his campaign.

    No one (unfortunately, god bless him) gives a rat's ass about Chris Dodd pulling a filibuster on FISA. You put the Democratic nominee front and center on it, the game changes. Instantly.

  • (Show?)

    "I personally think we can have a FISA bill that meets our security and freedom needs"

    We already HAVE one. It's the existing law on the books, passed earlier this session.

    And no worries, LT--you're right, just a single issue. That issue is the defense of the 4th Amendment and the rule of law, but hey, don't give it a second thought.

  • (Show?)

    If a guy with a VERY good chance of becoming the US Rep from WYOMING can take a firm stand on FISA capitulation, there's no reason Obama can't do so.

  • (Show?)

    O.k., now it's definitive, the UPO is a dope.

    He also appears to live in an alternate universe connected tenuously to ours by means not understood to science, if he thinks Pat Ryan is a Republican operative, or that what Pat has written remotely resembles the Naderite "tweedle-dum/tweedle-dee" rhetoric of 2000, much less that it somehow represents Pat's track record.

    Supporting Obama doesn't mean turning in our critical faculties at the door.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    Our household has put over $2,500 into the Obama campaign so far and we'd planned to match that in the general. I doubt that we will now. There's no question of who we'll vote for but this change on Obama's part is such pure political pandering that it will add to an "I was against it before I was for it" onslaught from the Republicans and it will have merit.

    When Senators like Leahy, Biden, Dodd, and Feingold are providing him cover, for Obama to buckle on this is inexcusable- not necessarily unforgivable- but inexcusable.

    If Bush were so determined to offer immunity to the telecom giants, he had only to promise them a blanket pardon on his way out the White House door. Obama should have made at least an effort to force that hand.

    "Disappointed" is an understatement of what I'm feeling right now.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Re: "I think if he took a prominent role rallying support against abuse of the constitution it would strengthen, not weaken him."

    One thing I would never say about Obama is that he is stupid. Isn't it obvious that your statement is true, i.e., that playing a progressive role would strengthen him in the eyes of the public?

    So, if he gains nothing politically from it, why do you think he is supporting the Bush doctrine?

    Apparently, Even Barack Obama Thinks You're Stupid:

    "I'm not sure which frightens me more, the thought that the people leading my nation could be so damn gullible, or the thought that they aren't -- but they're counting on us to be."

  • (Show?)

    UPO: "without opening up the courts to a lot of tort and civil rights lawyers salivating over contingency fees shimmering in the sky like golden rainbows."

    Now whose talking points does that sound like? Which party sets up with pavlovian-reinforce howling at the very words "tort lawyer"? And just who sees civil rights lawyers as the enemy?

    Hmm, Pat Ryan as covert GOP operative: projection much, UPO?

    To reinforce what TJ said at 1:30, Obama and the Congressional Democrats should be running on confronting and differentiating from Bush on this stuff, and using it to make the McCain-Bush continuity clearer.

  • (Show?)

    I'm willing to wait and see on this one.

    Legislative bills are almost never all good or all bad. Even the 2001 Patriot Act was largely filled with uncontroversial stuff. Only about 20 pages of that massive bill was unconstitutional. But had those 20 pages been stripped, I would have had no problem with it.

    So here we are now with Barack Obama saying he supports the new FISA bill, except for retroactive immunity - the heart of the capitulation. To me, this is kind of like saying you're for Saddam being overthrown, except the U.S. shouldn't use any of our own military to do it. Small difference in words. Big difference in policy.

    Who knows? This could be indeed Barack Obama making his first major move "to the center". Or instead, you all could be bitching about his seeming to fall down, when it is simply the first part of a political Sumi Gaeshi. He has enough sheer political talent, I really wouldn't put it past him either way.

  • (Show?)
    Democratic Senators may fear Bush and Republican backlash, but they surely fear being left on the outside of an Obama presidency even more.

    I'm no Senate scholar but the history of the institution doesn't seem to reveal much in the way of fear between Senators and a President of their own party. In fact, a Veep candidate who can help keep Senators in line is usually one of the qualities looked closely at when selecting a Veep.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    As Kershner likes to bring up Ralph Nader, got a question: are you implicitly flogging a Nader cult of personality? Is Nader himself flogging a cult of personality? Because despite all the intelligent things he has had to say over the years, I'll be damned if I've ever seen him to show the least interest in either governance or party building. His runs for president seem to be all about him, quite frankly: he climbs onto the national stage for awhile and then climbs down again, and seems not to care about what happens in between times.

  • (Show?)
    Who knows? This could be indeed Barack Obama making his first major move "to the center".

    Except even the center doesn't support telecom immunity. As far back as January, a poll showed a majority of voters against a plan to give legal immunity to telecommunications companies that facilitated the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping.

    The poll also found 57 percent of likely voters opposed telecom immunity, compared to just a third who supported it.
  • Miles (unverified)
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    Furthermore, the idea that Obama's position is the slightest bit politically necessary is absurd. There is no popular clamor for FISA, and Republican attempts to use it against Democrats so far have failed miserably

    I couldn't agree more. Which speaks to the ugly possibility that we're all sort of dancing around: What if Obama actually doesn't think telecom immunity is so bad? It already seems obvious that he doesn't think warrantless wiretapping is so bad. On telecom immunity, he's giving a head nod to the left while making it clear to everyone else that it's not an issue he's going to fall on his sword for.

    It shouldn't surprise anyone that Obama is no raging liberal. While many of his supporters seemed drawn to him as the great liberal hope, others were instead drawn to his ability to speak to progressive values while avoiding liberal excesses. It's his lack of experience that allows each of us to paint the picture we want on the blank Obama canvass.

    On the general issue of domestic spying, he favors it. So do most Democrats and all Republicans. On the smaller, less important issue of telecom immunity, he's sort of against it, but not enough to spend political capital on it. So let's just admit that, and realize that NOTHING will change until we convince the American people that they shouldn't trade their rights for increased security. But I'm not holding my breath that the citizenry will sign up for that radical notion anytime soon.

  • (Show?)

    Put me in the "wait and see" column. The move Obama made on FISA on the face of it doesn't seem to sync with other information we "think we may know" but don't really know about Obama.

    I'm finally getting up off the floor laughing over Paddy Boy being called a Republican troll. Thanks for making my day!

  • (Show?)
    As Kershner likes to bring up Ralph Nader, got a question: are you implicitly flogging a Nader cult of personality?

    It's funny, because with my memory extending back more than a couple of months, I remember stories like this from ABC:

    Obamamania: WIll He Turn 'Believers' Into Voters? Some Observers Liken the Passion of Obama's Supporters to a Cultlike Following

    Or The New York Times' Paul Krugman:

    I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality.

    Or any number or other outlets via Raw Story.

    Personally, I don't think the charge was warranted in either the case of Nader or Obama, but alleging someone is the leader of a cult is a lot easier than dealing with any points they might make.

  • (Show?)

    "I'm no Senate scholar but the history of the institution doesn't seem to reveal much in the way of fear between Senators and a President of their own party."

    Put down the history book and review the last eight years. You don't see any fearful maneuvers by Republican Senators afraid of going against their President? Yah, sure.

  • (Show?)

    Miles, In October 2007 Obama promised to support a filibuster of any bill with telecom immunity. I believe it was in a context of just having done so. Guess that could be compatible with not really caring and recalculating political advantage between then and now, but it's harder for me to see as compatible with actually supporting immunity.

    The focus on the immunity and not the weakness of the underlying bill on the part of advocacy groups has long puzzled me. It's actually just yesterday that it's started to come clearer. The argument is that if there are trials, it will bring out more information on the scope of the violations, that otherwise will remain secret.

    I agree that it still is disappointing that there has not been a lot more scrutiny and debate over the claims about "tools law enforcement needs," from the advocacy groups or others.

    I'd like more clarity about whether this "reform," had it been in place, would have prevented either Bush's actions or the telecom cooperation, or facilitated court challenges or prosecutions. It seems to be mostly a restoration of the status quo ante of FISA warrant requirement, which existed but Bush just ignored. If so, what's to prevent a repeat? If not, what has changed to hamper or prevent new violations?

  • (Show?)

    Well personally I see what the issue is. You have a whole host of Blue Dogs terrified at the prospect of a terrorist attack being pinned on them, and us.

    Their nightmare scenario is this: some idiot shoots up east podunkia, West Texas. This would not be news, except that the media discovers he's not the usual gang banger, he's an Arab. Frenzy time - TERRORIST ATTACK!!!!!! And of course, since this happened with no law in place to give telecoms immunity, McCain and his media fan club whip up a story of "If ONLY we'd sold out ALLLLLLL of our freedoms, then this wouldn't have happened." (Well, they spin it a different way, but that's the gist of it.) A lot of GOP operatives pretending to be security experts pop up on all the networks claiming that terrorists make phone calls saying, "Hi Mamood Ramadan, who lives at 1531 Sagebrush avenue, Apt 13. Please be a good Al Quaeda, and start shooting up the local Taste-Y-Freeze at 12:45, on Wednesday, August 13. Let us pray, by Allah, no one listens in on this conversation".

    And, in the BlueDog's nightmares, this works for the GOP. The dumbass knuckedraggers they have to appeal to suddenly flip, in the same way that now 65% of the U.S. public now supports offshore drilling because they can't drive their 8MPG hemi pickup like they used to. So the idea is to preemptively cave, as if such inoculation would work (it doesn't).

    But still, it puts Obama in a tough spot, because when you're filibustering a bill that even nearly half your own damned party has betrayed you on in the House, it doesn't lend to the perception that you're all nice and moderate. Worse, filibustering such a bill right now gives political cover to the Senate GOP to filibuster just about every new initiative Barack Obama comes out with at the start of his new term. And if he goes along with the cave, he loses a lot of his grassroots fundraising base.

    So he's in a really tough spot right now. Just like he was right after the Wright controversy first aired.

    But given how he handled that one, I'm not too worried.

  • naschkatze (unverified)
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    I almost didn't read your post because of the title but am glad now that I did. I have e-mailed both Obama and the DNC and warned that if the Senate Democrats don't get this abortion tabled again until after the election, I will stop donating and redirect my money back to the ACLU because they have been more effective in challenging the Bush assaults on the Constitution than the Democrats. I will still vote for Obama and agree with the person who wrote above that this should not all fall on his shoulders. Reid and Pelosi should have kept it from coming up in the first place, and although Obama is the presumed nominee, I don't think he has the power to imprint himself on the party until he is actually nominated. Then he'd better show them who is boss.

  • Douglas K. (unverified)
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    This ain't rocket science.

    Move to strip the immunity provisions from the bill.

    If that fails, vote against it on the floor.

    I really don't see a huge political risk in taking a stand against corporate crime.

    And I really can't believe the Democrats can't figure out how to make political hay out of Bush's threat to veto something he claims is critical to national security. This also should be a no-brainer: strip telecom immunity from the FISA bill, send him the rest of it, and if he vetoes it, attack him for playing politics with national security.

    That way, if some middle eastern guy shoots up East Podunkia and Republicans start blathering of how we could have stopped if only there was more wiretapping, Democrats can point out the way Bush vetoed the last FISA bill, and how he's not serious about protecting us from terrorism yada yada yada.

  • (Show?)

    Put down the history book and review the last eight years.

    Hmmm... Disregard history in order to review history? Um, wasn't that trademarked by the right-wing like 20 - 30 years ago?

    You don't see any fearful maneuvers by Republican Senators afraid of going against their President? Yah, sure.

    By the large majority of Republican Senators? No, not at all. What I see from all but a small minority of GOP moderates during that timeframe is sheer unadulterated political opportunism.

    Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney or even Karl Rove they may have feared. But Emporer Bush? They knew as well as anyone that he was stark naked.

    They were willing participants in the masquerade, not fearful victims.

  • wikiwiki (unverified)
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    I completely understand your sentiments, Mr. Ryan. I've been screaming at my walls for the last couple of days, too.....

    What makes this even more depressing is that Obama is, reputedly, a constitutional scholar, so it defies belief that he is ignorant about the underlying issues that are involved.

    From the accounts of it I've read (sorry, don't know how to do that link thing), this whole thing was undertaken by underlings on the relevant committees, and completely bypassed the heads of said committees, which in and of itself makes it seem extremely fishy. My impulse is to hold Pelosi and Reid primarily responsible for this to come back up, because they have (or should have) direct power to keep it off the floor. That they have not exercised it suggests that their leadership positions should be challenged when such things come up to their internal votes. They seemingly believe that their job is to pretend to compromise, but to actually capitulate to much of what the opposition wants. We should expect more than that.

    Regarding Obama, Douglas K's solution sounds quite attractive to me. Long-term, Obama and the Democrats will probably have the presidency, and hopefully a 60-plus-seat majority in the Senate, to push back on this and all the rest of the last administration's criminality. If they choose to sweep it under the rug, or if they alternatively make clear that they are not interested in taking such action in the campaign before November, it's hard not to conclude that Nader was right when he advised whoever asked him to "pick their poison."

  • steve (unverified)
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    Let's be honest. Obama is NOT the reincarnation of RFK. This became abundantly clear to me when he didn't even bother to show up at the Scalia confirmation hearings. This would have been an ideal opportunity to demonstrate some real leadership, and use his golden oratorical skills for more than just posturing. Still, he is the only chance we have for affecting some real change, and I am hoping for the best. Still, my friend Pat has every reason in the world to be disillusioned.

  • (Show?)

    Let me get this straight: Barack Obama is deeply opposed to a significant part of the bill, but if he can't get that part separated out, he decides to vote for the whole bill in order to inoculate himself against the political risk associated with voting no.

    So how is this different from Jeff Merkley's vote for HR2, exactly?

  • (Show?)

    I'm wondering if all of the hype around Barack Obama might be a bit overblown.

    I won't make the obvious joke that's just dying to be made, but I certainly hope people are rethinking their "outrage" that was generated during the Senate primary about the audacity of one of the candidates who dared criticize Obama.

    Seriously disappointing.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Take it from a 61 year old----Bobby Kennedy was a lot more complex than the RFK legend. He waited until Eugene McCarthy showed LBJ could be seriously challenged before running for President. The famous speeches where he talked about poverty and when he announced the death of MLK to that crowd in Indianapolis were inspiring because they were brave but also because they were not in tune with his reputation.

    He worked for an Internal Security agency in the 1950s which investigated suspected Soviet spies. He once worked for Joe McCarthy, and he appears to have signed off on the wiretapping of MLK because they thought some of his friends were subversive.

    So, be disappointed with Obama because he doesn't live up to what you expected. But like Bobby Kennedy, Obama is a "street fighter". Obama is someone who came from Chicago politics. This sounds like someone who chooses his battles--often a successful strategy in the long run.

    And no, I don't think this is like Merkley and the 2003 resolution. No matter how many times someone says that, I think Novick would have been wiser to spend the energy he spent on that issue on something more recent--veterans issues, poverty concerns, something like that.

    (I also think Novick would have had a better chance of carrying more than 3 counties had he put that excellent poverty video on the front page of his site rather than "flammable pants"---the poverty video sounded like RFK, the "flammable pants" video sounded like a juvenile taunt. If not voting for someone proud of a juvenile taunt makes me too centrist, I'd consider that a compliment.)

  • (Show?)

    This isn't about Novick's strategy, LT. It has nothing to do with Steve.

    It's about the substance of Merkley's and Obama's decisionmaking.

    How is it different?

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    Obama is NOT the reincarnation of RFK. This became abundantly clear to me when he didn't even bother to show up at the Scalia confirmation hearings.

    Even RFK wasn't the reincarnation of RFK (see McCarthy, Joseph and War, Vietnam), but I don't think you can blame Scalia on Obama; he's been on the Supreme Court since 1986, twenty years before Obama got to the Senate. Alito, maybe.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    Well, Pat is nice to see someone old enough to remember the Mob and the 4th. I admit I read the gnashing of teeth and wonder, "Where have you been?" I'd like someone to point out the difference in rationale between this mess and the 2nd's problems. Maybe also the correlation between the loudest protestors and depredations on the 2nd which lacks weasel words like "unreasonable."

    Sure, I'm unhappy, have been for some time. I'll wait to see what Obama and the Senate actually do.

  • (Show?)

    from TPM Cafe

    i'm not going to get into this discussion, but this post states a lot of what i feel better than i could.

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    I also think Novick would have had a better chance of carrying more than 3 counties...

    Counties don't vote. I thought that was the lesson people learned after the proclamation of George Bush's red tide in the 2004 election map season.

    The margin of Merkley's win was less than 3% and the 8,000 or so votes that would have had to swing the other way could have come from any combination of counties without necessarily changing the number of counties won. In nine of the counties Merkley won, his vote total was less than 500 (considerably less in most of them). In fact, the number of votes Novick received in Clatsop County -- the smallest of the three counties he won -- was more than Merkley received in those nine counties.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: Stephanie V | Jun 23, 2008 8:41:21 PM Let me get this straight: Barack Obama is deeply opposed to a significant part of the bill, but if he can't get that part separated out, he decides to vote for the whole bill in order to inoculate himself against the political risk associated with voting no. So how is this different from Jeff Merkley's vote for HR2, exactly?

    I never cease to be amazed that you managed to get into law school much less graduate and pass the bar exam with such a deplorable grasp of the most fundamental terms used by our nation's law-making bodies.

    What Pat referred to is an Act

    act - Legislation (a bill or joint resolution, see below) which has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, or passed over his veto, <u>thus becoming law</u>. Technically, this term also refers to a bill that has been passed by one house and engrossed (prepared as an official copy).

    HR2 was a Resolution

    simple resolution - Designated "S. Res.," simple resolutions <u>are used to express nonbinding positions</u> of the Senate or to deal with the Senate's internal affairs, such as the creation of a special committee. They do not require action by the House of Representatives.

    As for your oft-repeated insinuation that Merkley only voted for HR2 as an innoculation... it has been oft-debunked starting with the example of then-Governor Hatfield to Reps DeFazio et al and points inbetween.

    Obtuseness doesn't suit you, Stephanie.

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    Stephanie V: Let me get this straight: [Barack Obama] decides to vote for the whole bill in order to inoculate himself against the political risk associated with voting no. So how is this different from Jeff Merkley's vote for HR2, exactly?

    So let me get this straight: you're not only still spinning twisted GOP attacks against our Democratic Senate candidate - increasing "I'm-Democrat-really" Gordo's chance of holding on to the seat - you're also bashing Obama, our presumptive Democratic nominee, before we've seen the final resolution... all while being a pledged DNC delegate for him?

    Words fail me, Stephanie.

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    Obama may deserve criticism but it isn't a done deal yet.

    Stephanie, I do think it's different in another way. Jeff was responding to a "gotcha" trap concocted by Republicans who controlled the legislature. Barack Obama is responding to a cave-in by leaders of his own party who managed to stand up to this once before, and if he follows through in any way less than supporting a filibuster and voting no if that fails, breaking a promise he made last October.

    As you know, I always thought R.2 was a weak issue for Steve.

  • Calling them out (unverified)
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    Pat - you're point is right on about a real crisis of character in our Democratic Party that too many who call themselves Democrats share. (On balance, BO is a comprehensive example of that absence of integrity.)

    Contrary to UPO's juvenile "purity" rant, Kevin's utter inability to grasp the point, and Maurer's "Blue Dog" hoax launched by the right wing press after the 2006 Republican collapse, what's really happening is even more disturbing:

    For 8 years, a segment of incompetent and morally corrupt Democrats have happily played ball with Republicans and participating in attacks on our civil liberties, condoning torture, abetting predation on working people and our economy by business interests, and just generally accepting the utter criminality of the administration. Roberts and Scalia are on SCOTUS because Democrats like Wyden voted to put one or both of them there rather than filibuster like Republicans have done since 2008, not because they were nominated.

    The real difference between Republicans and the kind of hypocritical Democrats that Merkley enthusiastically embraces as the kind of Democrat he has always been in Oregon and wants to be in DC, is that Merkley's kind of Democrats got elected by telling the big lie about how they stand against what Republicans have done to the country.

    This has nothing to do with partisanism. This is simply about good old-fashioned lying by American politicians. The outrage is that it is politicians who opportunistically put a "D" after their name lying that they stand for genuine Democratic values to get elected because that is what the electorate wanted in 2006 and wants even more in 2008.

  • Calling them out (unverified)
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    Clarification:

    because that (genuine Democratic values) is what the electorate wanted in 2006 and wants even more in 2008.

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    "Well personally I see what the issue is. You have a whole host of Blue Dogs terrified"

    stop right there.

  • TR (unverified)
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    Oh, give the poor guy - strike poor guy - Obama a break. He is just trying to buy the Presidency like some hard core political lefties say big tobacco bought the election opposing a tax increase on cigarettes right here in Oregon. Blumenauer supports the guy because he sees dollar signs with more money extorted from taxpayers to subsidize his special legislative interests such as for the leechlike bicycling community and those creepy crawler money sucking juice mobiles on flanged wheels called streetcars. However, if Obama is elected and pledging to eliminate earmarks from congress, Blumenauer will have to do his share of sucking up too.

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    Stop and do what, TJ? Bluedogs in the House, like Lieberman in the Senate, are the difference between the majority and the minority for Democrats. That's not a "hoax". It's true.

    And worse, they still have the ability to absolutely destroy our messaging. You know who is killing Jeff Merkley right now? It's not you, Stephanie, or anyone else still trying to pretend Jeff is a closet Republican. It's Elizabeth Furse helping Smith to lie about his record. Imagine if a group of bluedogs started pulling a Lieberman on us over this. Don't think Obama can win against that kind of crap and latent racism, especially since it would give the bipartisan veneer to McBush.

    We can still lose the election. Voters may agree with Democrats - or hell, even be to the left of Democrats - on economic issues. But when they get into the ballot box, they still vote Republican because they hate and fear brown skinned foreigners. That's why the GOP is practically begging for Al Qaeda to stage a terrorist attack right now.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    It's about the substance of Merkley's and Obama's decisionmaking.

    Yes, because the substance and decision making (that's really supposed to be 2 words)of John McCain and Gordon Smith is so much better. Please continue to trash our candidates for President and Senate. Me and my future really appreciate it.

    I am constantly amazed at some people's continued inability to see political reality. They think compromise can't ever happen and putting something to bed that has no chance of happening is the end all and be all of a politician. Reality is we live in a Democratic leaning 51%-49% America. I may be convinced something is different after the next election but until the gerrymandering that was committed under the Republican Congress I'm still thinking Dems have to win in overwhelming majorities to get around the built in home court advantage the Republicans have.

    Go write a blog about something that matters...like a scumbag Republican and do something helpful rather than just tear down the best candidate we've had for President in my lifetime.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Did I miss the post about Obama selling out to to AIPAC? The post-primary move to the center[sic] is accelerating. It will not be long before "hope" is but a glimmer and "change" is nothing but a less steep descent into hell.

    Such is US politics, where every good idea gives way to triangulation; where no authoritarian bully, fearful xenophobe, warmongering pseudo-patriot, or classist bigot is denied reason to vote Democratic. The real meaning of "coming together" is revealed: kowtow to the fearful, the venal, the ignorant; excuse the crimes of the powerful while criminalizing the exercise of basic rights.

    Listen to the sheep, whatever the outrage, "the other guy's worse, the other guy's worse, bah, bah!"

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Benjamin Franklin

    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. - Thomas Jefferson

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    I'm going to wait to see what Barack Obama does when this bill comes up again in the Senate. Not expecting miracles, but I can fantasize about filibusters.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)
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    "Words fail me, Stephanie."

    Words aren't the only thing that have failed you, Steven. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

    "As you know, I always thought R.2 was a weak issue for Steve."

    Well, you can expect HR2 to re-emerge as Smith uses it to blunt Merkley's arttacks on his war positions. He'll also use it to paint Merkley as a flip-flopper ala John kerry

    (ie) Merkley voted for the war before he came out against it.

  • (Show?)
    Well, you can expect HR2 to re-emerge as Smith uses it to blunt Merkley's arttacks on his war positions.

    I've been hearing that claim for months now and there's not the faintest shred of evidence that it's any more reality-based today than it was the first time it was floated.

    Smith is clearly trying to cast himself in the mold of Morse and Hatfield. Opening the HR2 can of worms would directly undercut Smith's own framing because of how closely Hatfield's handling of the Gov's Conference resolution mirrors Merkley's handling of HR2, or vice versa as the case actually is. Not only would it result in Merkley being perceived as more in the mold of the legendary Hatfield than Smith, but it would serve to highlight how very unlike Hatfield and Morse Smith's own legislative record in fact is.

    In short, HR2 is a lose/lose issue for Smith.

    Pat, you are doing the exact same thing that Furse and Gordly are doing. Only, you're apparently not intellectually honest enough with yourself to own the reality of your pro-Smith propaganda campaign.

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    I have to admit this alarms the hell out of me. I'm not quite as far along as Pat is, but I do support his approach. Engagement is absolutely the way to go here. Let our leaders know how we feel.

    In the meantime, I'll try to get my head out of the sand and grapple with this...

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    Roberts and Scalia are on SCOTUS because Democrats like Wyden voted to put one or both of them there

    Maybe Democrats "like" Wyden are responsible for Scalia, but much as I might think Wyden has been ineffectual as a voice against the war and the administration's illegal intelligence gathering operations, there's no way you can blame him for Scalia, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986 while Wyden was still in the House of Representatives and a decade before he entered the Senate.

    It's curious, that's the same dumb mistake that another totally pseudonymous commenter made in this same thread.

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    Kevin: Pat... you're apparently not intellectually honest enough with yourself to own the reality of your pro-Smith propaganda campaign.

    To be fair, Kevin, I doubt any rant Pat scribes could be considered "propaganda", which at least in my mind requires some serious resources behind it. This ain't "triumph of the will". It's more like a scraggly haired bum screeching at everyone in the public park. The more you pay attention to him, the more annoying he gets.

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    The "Blue Dogs", "The Leaders", and Obama himself are missing a golden opportunity, blinded as they are by calculations like those put forward by Steve M.

    I beileve that this is the time to go into the districts and onto the floor of the House and Senate and stand overtly for the Constitution. I believe that they are dead wrong to assume that their constiuents are not hungry for some return to the actual "conservative" position which is that "American Exceptionalism" to the degree that it exists, is dependent on adherance to the founding document and to the rule of law applied to all.

    <hr/>

    Congessional approval ratings are lower among Democrats than they are among Republicans, and this is one of the central reasons.

    Tying into this is the concept that Dem leadership has been playing defense since 1979, and they have no institutional memory of how to play offense.

    So they don't. Ever. But they assure us that they will. Someday.

    <hr/>

    To remind all. I've consistently opposed impeachment as a useless and thoroughly debased tool, much to the chagrin of my allies on the left. This is a whole different tool in my mind.

    There are a whole lot of low info citizens out here that will recognize and applaud principled stands on fundamental issues (like the concept that none of us is above the law), but we can't test my theory until someone actually tries it.

    <hr/>

    Finally, Obama will not be the leader of the party until he actually takes an initiative and leads.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    To remind all. I've consistently opposed impeachment as a useless and thoroughly debased tool, much to the chagrin of my allies on the left. This is a whole different tool in my mind.

    Don't get me started, Pat.

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    For the record, I agree with you, Mr. Ryan. I really hope that Barack Obama supports the filibuster of FISA.

    My only point in elucidating these issues is to point out that what I, and I assume most posters on BlueOregon want, isn't some political no-brainer. There is real political risk involved in doing the right thing, because our shared opinion on this issue is the minority opinion of U.S. voters.

    I am a liberal. But I'm sane enough to understand that as a liberal, my views don't always coincide with the majority. After 6 long years of seeing their bluster, bullying, engendering international hate, and failed war, the public still prefers Republicans to Democrats on national security issues. A recent survey says 44% of Americans are in favor of torture, the abolition of which was a founding principal of this nation.

    Given that reality, I am willing to see past an occasional disappointment. Certainly, I won't - like so many people here - start preemptively bashing Democrats based on things that haven't happened yet.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    darrelplant said, "Except even the center doesn't support telecom immunity."

    Darrel, most of the posters to BO believe the "center" refers to the midpoint between DP right-wingers and RP right-wingers, and not, as we do, to the majority of the public.

    Your response to Joel's Rovian talking points about Nader was dead on. Unlike most Obama supporters, I don't support Nader for his personality, but rather for his stands on issues (Issues that Matter for 2008). If you right-wing Democrats don't like Nader's personality or what you see as his focus on his own personality (a red herring), then find some other progressive to support, but don't pretend that Obama is a progressive.

    I support naschkatze's choice to redirect her support to the ACLU.

    Douglas K.'s admonition, "...I really can't believe the Democrats can't figure out how to make political hay out of Bush's threat to veto something he claims is critical to national security" is also dead on. And aren't there only two possible reasons for their intransigence: (1.) they are VERY stupid (which I don't believe); or (2.) they are complicit?

    wikiwiki said, "If they choose to sweep it under the rug, or if they alternatively make clear that they are not interested in taking such action in the campaign before November, it's hard not to conclude that Nader was right when he advised whoever asked him to 'pick their poison.'"

    Dead on again. And one further point about Nader: he is the James Brown of politics, the hardest working politician you or I will ever know, and this recurrent meme that "he comes out of the woodwork every four years" like Dracula from a coffin is as stupid as the belief that the DP establishment is going to save us all.

  • Steven Maurer (unverified)
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    I know it's a waste trying to talk any sense into you, but if Ralph Nader was as popular with the "majority of the public" as you pretend to yourself he is, don't you think he'd be a little bit more... popular?

    I mean, can't you see the absurdity of calling just about everyone in the country "right wing"? I mean, man, those are some Bush-bubble-level perception filters you've got on there.

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    Pat R., right on your last comment.

    Steve M., a real question, i.e. I'm not trying to score meaningless debating points or asking a rhetorical question to which I have an answer: do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing on balance for the DP in the long run to be reliant on the Blue Dogs etc. now?

    What you describe is a situation in which the Ds have a majority caucus & get to organize the House & Senate, which is good in certain ways, substantially so at times, but in which they don't have a practical majority on a number of crucial issues of our times, including the constitutional crisis (apparently), Iraq, and trade. The DP goes out and advertises itself and mobilizes people on a national level image of progressivism on which it can't deliver.

    Historically the somewhat similar pattern of Franklin Roosevelt being reliant on the "Solid South" segregationist Democrats left gaping holes in the transformative realities and possibilities of the New Deal, whether in segregation of federal public housing, exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers from the NLRA, non-passage of anti-lynching laws, never mind any direct address to the overall structure of Jim Crow (this past weekend on "A Prairie Home Companion" Jorma Kaukonnen played a Democratic campaign song from probably 1932, part of it sort of dialogue between the stubborn mule and the elephant about the Depression, which inter alia praised the Ds as the party of "states' rights).

    The Rs seem to enforce a stronger kind of party discipline within their caucuses when they control one of the houses more strongly than do the Ds, at least on certain things, most notably perhaps judicial nominations. I guess the fiscal conservative purists complain a lot in a way that's maybe comparable to in-party progressives, left-liberals and liberals around here (not talking about the outside critics).

    How should, or maybe it's could, the party address the gap between promise and delivery caused by the Blue Dogs on your analysis?

  • (Show?)

    Steve, I'm not telling you anything you don't know, I expect, but for the record, Harry K. derives his view of the political spectrum from a reduction of public opinion to public opinion polls, and a selective reading of those, and thinks U.S. political parties are like parties in a parliamentary system, ignores actual political behavior by the public and mediating structures like federalism, winner-take-all elections etc., and either has an undynamic view of politics, or a fantastical picture of inexistent dynamics based on the previously listed problems.

    That said, it does seem to me as if there is a real issue about what progressives can do to engage the dynamics so that we don't get put in a box again as in Clinton's presidency. I feel like we're on the verge of getting set up for a replay of 1994 in 2010 or 2012.

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    Steven, Harry never said Ralph Nader was popular with a "majority of the public". Why bother trying to shoot down a statement he never made?

    On the other hand, the margin between Obama and McCain in Oregon in the latest SUSA poll is half the size of the percentage of the vote Oregon gave Nader in 2000. Rather than giving further credence to the idea that the Democrats and Republicans are engaging in a merry little dance to the destruction of the American republic by caving in to the administration on telecom immunity -- a truly unpopular idea -- it might be better for the Democrats if their Senate membership picks up the ball that Steny Hoyer dropped. That margin of voters might come in handy come November.

    Then again, what difference can a few thousand votes make?

    I can't tell from this whether the ACLU's polling firm is doing a "selective reading", are ignoring "actual political behavior", or have a "fantastical picture of inexistent dynamics". But they definitely think that the public -- across the political spectrum -- is against telecom immunity.

    This analysis represents the findings of a national survey of 1000 likely 2008 general election voters. Interviews were conducted by telephone January 11 to January 15, 2008. To insure an unbiased sample, random-digit-dialing techniques were used and respondents screened for being likely voters. The margin of error for this survey is +/-3.1% at the 95% level of confidence. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. While Americans surely want to protect the country from terrorism, they also insist on protecting our constitutional rights. Opposition to key elements of the Bush Administration’s FISA agenda--warrantless wiretaps, blanket warrants, and immunity for telecommunication companies that may have broken the law—remains quite strong. In fact, large majorities across almost every demographic subgroup of voters oppose all three of these proposals. Opposition to the Administration’s FISA agenda is as strong or stronger today than it was three months ago. As a result, Members of Congress who stand in defense of constitutional rights have little to fear from their constituents. ... Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters reject immunity for phone companies that may have violated the law by selling customers’ private information to the government, preferring to let courts decide the outcome of any cases. Again intensity favors opponents of immunity, with 45% “strongly” opposed. Just one-third (33%) support immunity for the phone companies, with only about 1-in-5 (22%) strongly supporting immunity. In our previous survey we used the term “amnesty” instead of immunity. Some maintained that the word was charged as a result of the immigration debate and that use of the word “immunity” might produce different results. It did not. In fact, 57% opposed giving the phone companies “immunity” (33% give immunity), compared to 55% who rejected “amnesty” for the phone companies (35% give amnesty). Intensity was the same regardless of whether voters were asked about “amnesty” or “immunity”: in each case, 45% felt strongly that the courts should be left to decide. Opposition to immunity is widespread, cutting across ideology and geography. Majorities of liberals, moderates, and conservatives agree that courts should decide the outcomes of these legal actions (liberals: 64% let courts decide, 26% give immunity; moderates: 58% let courts decide, 34% give immunity; conservatives: 50% let courts decide, 38% give immunity). Rejection of immunity similarly cuts across race and class. Over three-quarters (76%) of Hispanics prefer to let the courts decide (17% give immunity), as do 74% of blacks (21% give immunity), and 54% of whites (36% give immunity). Immunity is opposed by over half (55%) of working/lower class voters (32% give immunity), 61% of those in the middle-class (30% give immunity), and 50% of middle/upper-middle class Americans (41% give immunity)). Seventy-one percent (71%) of Democrats and nearly half (49%) of independents say let the courts decide (give immunity: 22% and 35%, respectively). Republicans are evenly split (45% give immunity, 46% let the courts decide) with greater intensity in support of letting the courts decide (38% strongly) than giving immunity (30% strongly).
  • (Show?)

    I shouldn't expect Steve Maurer to get it, and I guess I didn't, although I am always happy when words fail him, however briefly.

    I am just saying that politicians make bad choices from time to time for political reasons. This is not generally surprising, as they are after all politicians.

    I think it's amusing that this episode is attracting so much criticism of Obama from people who enthusiastically embraced Jeff Merkley's similar choice. Chris Lowe, I take your point, but I think that the difference you cite is not all that important in terms of the decisionmaking process for each of them.

    Yes, I am an Obama delegate. No, I don't think he's perfect. Yes, I think he's our very best hope for a different and better future. And yes, I hope he can figure out a way to do the right thing here.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Folks, take a deep breath and think. Of course the public is against telcom immunity. People like law and order and they dislike special treatment for elites, especially elites that charge outrageous amounts for phone service.

    It's not Blue Dogs standing in their way, it's lap dogs, that kind that take big campaign contributions from telcom corporations. Democrats yip just as loud as Republicans when after these bones, er, checks.

    The American public has progressive values. Campaign contributors do not. Therein lies the rub.

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    Chris, I don't like to use the terms "good" and "bad" when discussing political principles. That smacks of absolutism, which in my experience leads to extremism. Instead, I like to use the terms "better" and "worse".

    And when you do that, I think my answers are probably pretty close to those that any other reasonable progressive would come up with. It is better for the Democrats to be reliant on the bluedogs even with their problems, than to have a Republican majority in power; we've seen progress on dozens of issues that would have gone nowhere under a pre-2006 Congress. But it is worse than what I think is ultimately achievable, which is a solid progressive majority.

    It is better to achieve that majority by getting the inattentive, mercurial, public to agree with us on all issues, but it's worse to lose an election when, despite our efforts, they don't. Therefore it is better for Democrats to be a "big tent" party, even if sometimes this means I'm disappointed, because this moves us more in the progressive direction than insisting on purity-in-all-cases does.

    Let me repeat that last, because it's very important: "big tent" parties are more effective than minority "purity" parties, because purity parties don't decide anything. In fact, you can pretty easily prove mathematically that in moving an agenda, a large majority of Liebermanesque partisans trumps even significant minorities of 100% purists, so long as those "Liebermans" all show their "independence" from the party line on different issues, which allows you to always assemble a majority.

    This leads to the conclusion that the best way to "purge" Bluedogs and DLCers from the party, is not to purge them at all, but to remove their leverage by rendering them moot. I've even come to the conclusion that many bluedog/DLCers - specifically those that hold seats that would otherwise be held by Republicans - are doing the party a major favor. Just like how Gordon Smith, despite whining from a few frothing right wingers, does the GOP a favor by holding a seat that should rightfully be held by a Democrat.

    I'm not exactly alone in this analysis. It follows Markos Moulitsas' quite closely, who, incidentally, also uses the term "purity troll" to describe members of the counterproductive left more interested in expressing their juvenile alienation than actually doing the adult things necessary to start healing this nation.

    And for the record, yes, I admit to being curt with these people. Largely, in my experience, they're bohemian middle aged white guys who've never suffered any real privation in their lives, and don't expect to. Like their Libertarian counterparts, this lets them value acid rhetoric and abstract ideology over alleviating the real suffering that's going on right now. I tell you, quite frankly, you don't hear this kind of crap thrown against our Democratic nominee from any woman who's had to have an abortion, soldier who's worried about going on another rotation, or family man who has lost his job.

    All they see when they see Barack Obama on TV is hope.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    When one finds oneself among people who consider it unrealistic purity to oppose granting immunity to businesses who routinely violate well-established constitutional rights, one might conclude that one is not among friends of civil liberties.

    Steven Maurer's vivid imagination might best be put to writing scripts for bad television productions. It reminds me of facile inventions of right wingers about welfare moms in pink Cadillacs, labor leaders with fat cigars in one hand and blackjacks in the other, gay cartoon characters, and man-hating, baby-killing, lesbian, feminist witches.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Steven Maurer asked, "I mean, can't you see the absurdity of calling just about everyone in the country 'right wing'?"

    It would have been absurd if I had said it. Your paranoid delusions can't be healthy for you. There is plenty for you to disagree with in what I actually say, because we disagree about almost everything.

    What I have said consistently is similar to what darrelplant has said consistently, i.e., that most of the country is far to the left of both major parties, something with which many distinguished analysts agree (see Chomsky). This is the opposite of what you contend I said.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Mr. Kershner--I guess it's some sort of weird badge of honor to have you refer to my questions about Nader as "Rovian talking points." I'll be damned....

    Per Nader, I actually voted for him in...well, I'd better not say when...twice actually, because I liked what he had to say and liked his speaking the truth to spineless Democrats (sound familiar?). But later I actually, sincerely came around to the opinion that, yes indeed, old Ralph was operating a sort of screwball cult of personality, and lots of Nader supporters are buying into it. Why? Because Ralph Nader doesn't give a rip about actual party building. He couldn't care less about actually winning elections. He couldn't care less about governance. He is the ultimate purity troll, to use the language of the blogosphere. He blips onto the national radar screen every 4 years, grouches around for the course of his "campaign" (an absurd description of what he actually does), and then goes back to doing his low-key good works. And they are good works. But there are lots of curmudgeons who do good works; Ralph Nader is just one more.

    As for the original thread, I remain extremely disappointed about Obama's statement on FISA last Friday.

    It turns out that Barack Obama and Ralph Nader both put their pants on one leg at a time.

  • Steven Maurer (unverified)
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    darrelplant: I can't tell from this whether the ACLU's polling firm is doing a "selective reading", are ignoring "actual political behavior", or have a "fantastical picture of inexistent dynamics". But they definitely think that the public -- across the political spectrum -- is against telecom immunity.

    A cogent and fact filled argument from you, darrel. Especially as I am a card carrying member of the ALCU, I think it's right for me to address it.

    I think the ACLU's polling firm is making a mistake, but none of what you suggested. Rather, it's assuming that voters actually will stick to this view, or even have one at all.

    One of the major problems with polling is that as soon as you ask someone's opinion, they feel compelled to actually have one. Americans trust their courts, largely, to deal with obscure domestic legal issues. They don't like political meddling. So if you ask "There's a court issue, should it be resolved in the courts or by Congress?", by default you'll get the right answer - even if the public doesn't really feel strongly about it one way or the other.

    But what the ACLU did not poll for, which I suspect some other firm did, was whether this support would be the same in light of a terrorist attack, or even some 3-AM style attack ad that makes it seem like this law actually provides public safety. Again, I'm nearly certain this is what Democratic moderates are worried about, and given the publics' willingness to trade essential liberty for a little temporary safety, it is not an unreasonable fear.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    What is it that we want Barack Obama to do at the Senate debate on FISA? Probably a lot of different answers out there, but here's what I would tell him:

    Senator, stand up on the floor of the Senate and remind the American people of those words from Benjamin Franklin:

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    and these words from Jefferson:

    "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it."

    and

    "Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence."

    Senator, you've spoken about the need to form a more perfect Union. That's what you need to talk about on the floor of the Senate, not just on the stump.

  • (Show?)
    What I have said consistently is similar to what darrelplant has said consistently, i.e., that most of the country is far to the left of both major parties

    Whoa, speak for youself, Harry. I don't think I've ever said that. I know my own politics are far to the left of virtually anyone I've ever met.

    And despite Steve's concept of "bohemian middle aged white guys who've never suffered any real privation in their lives", I get my leftist politics from growing up in a union household where my dad had been a kid in a two-room shack in Gresham in the '50s, and my mother's family wasn't much better off.

    On the issue of telecom immunity, however, over the past months most of the country's been against it, whether they're conservative, liberal, or moderate.

  • (Show?)

    Harry Kershner: [M]ost of the country is far to the left of both major parties

    OK, Harry. Let's try this one last time. If most of the country is far to the left of both major parties, why are they... major parties?

    Major parties get the vast majority of the votes. That's why they're called "major". Can't you see the disconnect between what you're asserting and reality?

    Again, this isn't rocket science. Democratic governments reflect the attitudes of the citizens which compose them. For example, most of our European allies have more progressive governments because their people are more progressive. You would do much more good to the progressive cause you espouse if you simply acknowledged that your opinion is the minority. The public is wrong. You are right. But you're still (outside of downtown Portland) in the minority.

    Once you acknowledge that, then we can talk about what we can do to start changing the publics' point of view, since I, like you, would like the U.S. public to be more progressive.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Steve Maurer wrote:

    ...most of our European allies have more progressive governments because their people are more progressive.

    No, Steve, most of our European allies have more progressive governments because they do not allow purchase of candidates by well-funded interests. That, indeed, is not rocket science.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    I am still totally perplexed why people care so much about telecom immunity, but not so much about the underlying bill that allows a secret court to authorize the wiretapping of American citizens. Here's what Obama said about the meat of the bill:

    Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over.

    Given Obama's view on this "important tool", who gives a rip about his view on telecom immunity? The parallel here would be if someone votes to support the war in Iraq, but they work really hard to make sure we can sue Halliburton.

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    But what the ACLU did not poll for, which I suspect some other firm did, was whether this support would be the same in light of a terrorist attack, or even some 3-AM style attack ad that makes it seem like this law actually provides public safety.

    Steve, as I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I think that if the Democrats can't make the case that telecom immunity -- which only addresses past abuses of the law -- is wrong, then they'll never be able to win an argument against the Republicans. People like Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi who pushed the bill with immunity through the House by saying what a great and wonderful "compromise" it is are doing their best to undermine the majority of Democrats in Congress who oppose the provision.

    And frankly, given that there's at least a significant chance that McCain could win in November -- if you want to play with the ticking terrorist attack scenario -- why give in to the administration on everything? That just seems totally craven.

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    I am still totally perplexed why people care so much about telecom immunity, but not so much about the underlying bill that allows a secret court to authorize the wiretapping of American citizens.

    The secret court has existed in one form or another since the late 1970s. That's what the FISA court is and has been for 30 years.

    The immunity provision closes off a potential window into the system that could help determine whether the telecoms illegally helped the government spy on American citizens. Granting them immunity means they can't be sued. If they can't be sued, then their role is shut behind a wall of executive privilege.

    On the other hand, if lawsuits can be brought against the telecoms, it might be possible to find out what exactly they were doing, and who they were helping to spy on, and then the layers could potentially be peeled back to see which officials authorized those actions, if they were illegal, and prosecutions of administration officials might come about. Still a long shot.

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    This leads to the conclusion that the best way to "purge" Bluedogs and DLCers from the party, is not to purge them at all, but to remove their leverage by rendering them moot. I've even come to the conclusion that many bluedog/DLCers - specifically those that hold seats that would otherwise be held by Republicans - are doing the party a major favor.

    Here's where Steve's points come together with mine.

    I don't want to punish anyone, and I don't need anyone to admit the error of their ways.

    The vast majority of human being behave more or less as the society around them allows and encourages, so too with Congresscritters. All I ask of the Bluedogs (since dogs,like humans take their behavior cues from the pack) is that they see the change and participate in it.

    And again, excessive timidity can put you behind the curve of what the public is wanting now, while you are tailoring your campaign around what they seemed to want on the day you got elected. I mean, hell, you might even get a chance to instruct and lead people back toward a simple ideal: Respect for the Constitution and the laws that correctly derive from it.

    As for the "leaders", Markos is right that we need to knock a couple of them out, to engender respect from the rest.........basic Machiavelli......

    I nominate Steny in the House and Harry in the senate, but I'm flexible........

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Steven Maurer asked, "If most of the country is far to the left of both major parties, why are they... major parties?"

    A fine question, Steven (I'm pretending that I think you meant it as a question instead of as a sarcastic remark).

    The parties are appendages of institutional structures, including powerful business interests, the state power apparatus, and the public relations industry. There has been a lot written about this. Let the father of the "realists" answer your question:

    "It is not a matter of what is true that counts, but a matter of what is perceived to be true." Henry Kissinger

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    darrelplant said, "Whoa, speak for youself, Harry. I don't think I've ever said that [that most of the country is to the left of the major parties]. I know my own politics are far to the left of virtually anyone I've ever met."

    Sorry if I misrepresented your position, Darrel. I don't understand why you disagree, however. The people have always been more progressive than the party leadership.

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    Steve, Tom C. and Harry K. have a point about institutional & money contexts of party voting, one that connects quite clearly with what you say about the ACLU poll. To me I'm not sure it's so much a difference about money in politics. There are regular corruption scandals in Europe.

    I think it's about the way that parliamentary politics allow ideas to become normalized more easily, because party discipline means that party platforms mean more and people are voting for platforms, not just images of personalities, and because people with minority ideas can get public advocates for them in parliaments, that get the ideas into the press and wider discussion than in the U.S. The institutions make the contexts for people to be more consciously and consistently progressive more hospitable than here.

    I agree with you on the ephemerality of polls depending on specific questions, but I don't think it would take a terrorist attack. If you asked people "should Congress vote to take away a tool from law enforcement to fight terrorism that the president says they need, and leave it up to the courts," the answers would come out a lot differently. It's not an accident that the quote from Obama that Miles cites uses that language. And the Congressional Ds know that they'd be fighting the Rs promoting that view of what's happening.

    We saw exactly this effect in the destruction of the Clinton effort at a form of univeral health insurance. A piece of that was that it was such a Rube Goldberg construction, designed to placate insurance interests, who rejected it and fought it anyway.

    But the persistent polling that shows Americans would favor government provided health insurance for everyone is easily mucked up when red herrings about "socialized medicine" are thrown in, or phrasing that invokes popular stereotypes about government bureaucracy and distracts them from the reality of private insurance bureaucracy those of us lucky enough to have insurance face. And the press has colluded by failing to actually look at the ideas, because of the "not politically realistic" self-fulfilling short-circuit.

    Here again the role of the press in acting as a megaphone for propaganda, focusing on "balance" (which is completely relativist) rather than "objectivity" (which attempts to measure against reality and involves judgments of correspondence to it, however inherently humanly imperfect) is really crucial to the "inattentiveness" you describe.

    However, I also think that the D leaders are making a mistake this time around, that the FISA debate, and also Iraq, are fights that could be won in terms of defining the issues, and thus in terms of gaining support and keeping and gaining votes.

    Miles, I have shared your perplexity for a long time, and think that the advocates have made an error in not putting the basic proposition out there that all the time that the government should not spy on Americans without a warrant and it is against the constitution to do so, along with the immunity. But they haven't. What Tom C. says about the immunity creating some possibility of trials exposing more about the scale and details of the violations matters in part because that information could become crucial in campaigning to change the FISA law to restore the Fourth Amendment.

    (Harry K., I didn't see your several days old message to my secondary e-mail address, in response to an invitation on another thread, until after what I wrote about you above, and I apologize for the above because I now think it doesn't adequately reflect your views, except that I am afraid that your rhetorical strategy in this forum looks a lot more like what I wrote than what I see in that other setting. FWIW I don't think it works as a rhetorical strategy, but I expect you won't think that worth much.)

  • Robert (unverified)
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    Really? I am shocked at the naivete.

    Barack Obama is a politician. He is a great politician, and he is the right person to lead our country out of the darkness of the Bush administration.

    But he's a politician. He will say and do whatever it takes to get elected. Why does this disappoint you? If Senator McCain becomes the next president, we will have another four years of disastrous leadership. It could literally destroy this country.

    If politics as usual will win this election, then Barack Obama had damn well better practice politics as usual. NOTHING matters more than winning. The stakes are too high.

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    Hmmmm... Chris, I'm simply not sure I can buy the "mechanical" view of differences between the US and Europe. If anything, parliamentary democracy seems more prone to corruption, because in them, voters have no real say in how their government is organized after the elections. (If you didn't like "super" delegates, you'd absolutely hate the horse trading that goes to form a parliamentary government.) Such a view also fails to account for the major differences between European nations: Norway always seems to be well run, no matter who is in power; Italy is nearly always a joke.

    No, I still see the major difference as culture. And while there are many good things about American culture that are, in my opinion, superior to Europe (we have vibrancy and innovative streak many Europeans seem to lack), we have major defects as well.

    Most notably, Americans, from the U.S. extending into the Latin Americas, are swept up in a culture of machismo. Victors at socially acceptable violence are heroes, whether they're football players, ultimate fighters, or soldiers.

    And this all easily twists into the kind of politics that Republicans excel at. Again, you're not going to convince me that under some other system we'd be impeaching the Vice President and the President for allowing torture, when recent public surveys say 44% of Americans approve of the practice.

    And frankly, the real problem most voters have with the Iraq war isn't the murder and death - it's that we seem to be losing. The reason McCain is campaigning on national security, is because despite the Iraq war, Americans still think the Republican way of doing things is better than ours. That's why you still hear rhetoric about "winning" in Iraq, although how you actually "win" while caught in the crossfire of a civil war is never quite explained. (It's just for our machismo, we have to "win". We cheer our soldiers like the football players, except they've got bullets and stuff, which for most voters is way cooler.)

    Again, I think the bluedogs are wrong, and you actually can sell the rule of law to the American public. I especially wish that Speaker Pelosi hadn't caved the way she did (although again, I don't know the internal caucus politics of it; the last thing you want during election season is some inter-party spat going public). But even with all that, it hardly seems an issue you want to campaign on, even though we're right.

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    Harry Kershner: The parties are appendages of institutional structures, including powerful business interests, the state power apparatus, and the public relations industry.

    Harry, I'm in the Democratic party. I'm a PCP. My wife, the angel who puts up with me, is the Chair of the Washington County Democratic party, and will be going to Denver to nominate Barack Obama (as will Stephanie V., bless her still-trolling-for-Novick diehard soul). So let me tell you something - I'm nobody's "appendage". Neither are they, or anyone else in the party I know, including some pretty high muckedy-mucks.

    Really, it sounds like you've been playing too much lluminati. It's fun, but get a grip.

    Further, even if we were all controlled operatives, you've yet to explain how any of this forces people to vote for parties far more conservative than what they want. Same thing goes for the media, which for some reason, the vast majority of the public thinks is "liberal".

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    Illuminati is truly a great game. At least it was enjoyable when I played it 25 years ago.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    The secret court has existed in one form or another since the late 1970s. That's what the FISA court is and has been for 30 years.

    I know. And before this whole debate started, there were many of us who were troubled by the existence of a US secret court that issued secret warrants based only on evidence provided by the government, and whose decisions were unreviewable and unappealable.

    When the public and press began focusing on FISA, I hoped it was an opportunity for Democrats to expose this flawed system and restore some checks and balances. Instead, Democrats immediately lined up in support of the secret court. From a political perspective, the Bush Administration's circumvention of the court was brilliant because it resulted in Democrats arguing IN FAVOR of the secret court. "Oh, if only the the Administration would use the secret, unaccountable FISA court, all would be well with the Constitution."

    So I can't understand the current outrage over Obama weakening his already incredibly weak stance. The guy signed off on 90% of the problem, and now he's completing the capitulation.

    What Tom C. says about the immunity creating some possibility of trials exposing more about the scale and details of the violations matters in part because that information could become crucial in campaigning to change the FISA law to restore the Fourth Amendment.

    In the abstract you're right that we should fight against telecom immunity. But as a practical matter, we've already lost the major battle. The above seems to me like an ex post facto justification for why we're making such a big deal over the scraps. Even without immunity, the best we can hope for is that the telecoms end up paying a large class action settlement. There won't be criminal trials of telecom execs, and there is zero chance of criminal trials over the Administration's use of warrantless wiretaps.

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    Dang it Miles, does your prognostication have to be so depressing?

    Unfortunately I can't disagree with a word you wrote.

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    Miles, it is or isn't an ex-post-facto justification depending on what we, and the advocacy/lobbying groups that try to mobilize us but aren't very accountable to us (ACLU an honorable exception) do to try to change things if in fact the election creates power relations. I don't know that will happen. When Clinton got in, progressives let ourselves get boxed up pretty tightly, and I'm worried about that happening again, since I remain an Obama skeptic on policy and "new politics," but have increasing respect for his apparent ability to bring things under his control. On the other hand, people whom I respect do think and feel that he's unleashing new forces that could make the situation dynamic and influence which way he goes. Maybe they're right. My skepticism is tempered by my certainty that I'm muddling along like everyone else I know, and that I certainly don't have a superior answer.

    Anyway, I think we have to make the effort, should we get the chance. This particular fight seems to me significant in two limited senses: 1) getting back into the habit of fighting, and 2) possibly having a relatively minor but still useful effect on the context for a more serious effort. I hope when the time comes you will look to see if that is happening, and if it is, find your way join in, your clarity of perspective certainly would be valuable.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Steve Maurer wrote:

    Further, even if we were all controlled operatives, you've yet to explain how any of this forces people to vote for parties far more conservative than what they want. Same thing goes for the media, which for some reason, the vast majority of the public thinks is "liberal".

    Many large issues require a great deal of exposition and discussion to present a cogent argument. It's not something that can be done in a blog comment, so we get this back and forth chatter that goes nowhere. If someone wants to understand how US politics creates government that is not nearly as democratic as our system suggests, he can read Herman and Chomsky on the manipulation of public opinion; McChesney and Bagdikian on the failure of the media; Parenti and Palast on campaign finance; and Zinn and Vidal on US history.

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    Steve, I don't see what I wrote as a "mechanical" argument, and I wasn't plumping for parliamentary government as internally democratic in political parties, lots of variation. Actually it was a cultural argument about differences that structures make to cultures. I think that when Europeans vote, culturally the act means something different and is understood differently, in relation to the balance between personalities and ideas (ideas being very cultural phenomena), than in the U.S. That difference in meaning is a cultural difference. To be sure, not the only one -- though I have to say also that I think U.S. innovation is way overrated since about 1970. Or perhaps to be more precise, far too much of it has been devoted to making money off of financial shenanigans, and too little either to the material dimensions of sustainable development, to creative social policy addressing human needs (where European creativity has outstripped ours for 150 years), and to international peace & security based on cooperative approaches to mutual development with a strong view toward sustainability in that realm. What you say about machismo has a great deal to it, a piece of which is great dexterity at patting ourselves on the back -- puts yoga to shame, really.

    Of course different European countries are different, as indeed with U.S. states and regions, come to it. But the discussion was originally set up as U.S. compared to Europe, in terms of things that Europe, or maybe implicitly Western and parts of Central Europe have in common. I think political structure shapes political culture, both popular and in the press, not in a mechanical way, but in an organic feedback relationship.

    Of course, one feature of American culture is that it tends to elevate "culture" at the expense of "social structure" ;->, and not look as much as I'd wish at their dynamic interaction, so I'm not surprised by our differences in emphasis.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Lowe's comments about parliamentary systems seem accurate to me; I was living in the UK during one of their election campaigns and it was primarily about party "manifestoes", to use their term, not about party leaders. And yes, as someone already noted, parliamentary systems have their own issues with corrupt campaign financing practices. "Clean money" exists only in the imagination, especially in the Portland imagination.

    Kershner's comments about large American political parties being tied to large institutions, economic and otherwise, seems fine, but his reasoning tends to drift from there. What especially bothers me about the Kershnerite/Naderite approach, however, is that it denounces American politics as hopelessly venal and corrupt, and then...well, not much. Nader "campaigns" by refusing to campaign. It's not politics, it's the rejection of politics. I used to admire that approach, but no longer.

    And our other small parties? I used to think the Libertarians were ideologically coherent, but in recent election cycles, they've nominated outsiders who managed to temporarily capture the party machinery. Similarly for the Greens.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Miles' comment deserves special praise. The "debate" about FISA starts, like most other debates in the U.S. political arena, from right-wing talking points, in this case from the assumption of the original legitimacy of the FISA court. So Obama's and the DP establishment's failed attempt to triangulate is especially egregious.

    Tom C. is also right on the money (a Marxist slip?) in his response to Steven. Herman and Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent should be required reading for anyone who fails to understand how the major political parties manage to survive even though they fail to represent the majority.

    Robert said, "He will say and do whatever it takes to get elected. Why does this disappoint you? ...NOTHING matters more than winning."

    Either you're correct about the "naivete" of those of us coming from the progressive center, or you're just another cynic.

    Chris: Thanks for the explanation.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    re Joel's "What especially bothers me about the Kershnerite/Naderite approach, however, is that it denounces American politics as hopelessly venal and corrupt, and then...well, not much. Nader "campaigns" by refusing to campaign. It's not politics, it's the rejection of politics."

    If Nader or I believed that American politics was "hopeless", we wouldn't participate. I know lots of people who are far to the left of me who completely reject electoral politics.

    I am a centrist, and the issues I've debated here are centrist issues, so you need to ask yourself where that places you. Furthermore, you would understand that Nader has been campaigning if there weren't a virtual media blackout of it. You may have admired in the past the approach of "refusing to campaign", but Nader never has.

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    Tom Civiletti: If someone wants to understand how US politics creates government that is not nearly as democratic as our system suggests, he can read Herman and Chomsky on the manipulation of public opinion

    And here we finally get to the root of the problem. Your, and Harry's, definition of "democracy" is different from dictionary. We exist in a marketplace of ideas. Conservatives and liberals vie to bring on the majority of citizens (or at least voters) over to their point of view. Success is measured in the voting booth.

    However, if conservatives manage to persuade a majority of voters to support their position or candidates, you believe this is not a "democratic" result. Indeed if so-called liberals, who aren't as unyielding as you are, manage to persuade the public to support their position, this is also not a "democratic" result.

    Indeed, nothing is "democratic" except when the public has been persuaded to adopt your views, which, as Harry puts it, is naturally the centrist one, because you're at the center of all legitimate viewpoints: yours. This happens so rarely however, that you've more or less decided you don't really live in a democracy at all, what with all the huge majorities of people undemocratically voting against what you favor.

    Again, Tom, the idea that the public is being "manipulated" is a conceit that both does them and you a disservice. It is perfectly legitimate to believe the our current democracy is delivering an immoral result. I happen to believe this myself on some issues, and it's clearly happened in history: public support for slavery, the election of the Nazi Party, etc. But when you claim something "isn't democratic" because you keep losing free and fair elections, you cross the line from "member of the principled minority" to "unhinged crank".

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Steven Maurer wrote:

    if conservatives manage to persuade a majority of voters to support their position or candidates, you believe this is not a "democratic" result.

    Again, Steven, you like to imagine what others believe, how they think, and what "kind of people" they are; and, as usual, your fantasies are far from reality. I believe results are not democratic when democratic process is not operating effectively. I do not know if you failed to study democracy, or if you have forgotten what you studied, but real democracy requires much more than elections. If you read Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin on the subject, you will learn that democracy requires an educated electorate, one that has information, knows how to gain more information, and can process information in a reasonable fashion. You will learn that democracy requires a free and active news distribution system - the Fourth Estate. You will find democracy requires that private interests must be prevented from gaining undue influence over government, education, or public discussion.

    If you spent some time studying the writers I list in the message above, you would find that modern America lacks the requirements of a properly functioning democracy. Perhaps you would realize you have been successfully propagandized into believing that those with more knowledge and insight than yourself are "unhinged cranks."

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    If you read Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin on the subject, you will learn that democracy requires an educated electorate, one that has information, knows how to gain more information, and can process information in a reasonable fashion. You will learn that democracy requires a free and active news distribution system - the Fourth Estate. You will find democracy requires that private interests must be prevented from gaining undue influence over government, education, or public discussion.

    Yeah, the art of marketing, which really only took off in the 1930s has become a disastrous but unavoidable part of the modern political process. People that have grown up on TV ads targeting them with fear and desire, have learned to automatically make decisions based on the shallowest of arguments.

    These tools have been turned, in politics, in such a way that any of the guys named by Tom would be totally appalled. They not only do not promote an informed electorate, they in fact, train consumers to think of themselves as such rather than as citizens.

    How can you argue that this is not reality, when the evidence assults us all 24-7?

    I don't need a damned pill every time I get a twitch in my shoulder; It's unethical for me to sue Johns Manville, because I walked past an antiquated boiler insulated with asbestos once; No miracle cream is going to enhance my sex life with my wife; Choosing my president based on what kind boots and hat he wears will not serve my country.

    This is today's American Citizen, and s/he knows virtually nothing about the deeper issues, and s/he has been trained not to ask.

    I join Tom in thinking that's a huge problem that serves to subvert and diminish the concept of democracy.

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    Tom Civiletti: Steven... as usual, your fantasies are far from reality.

    Fair enough, Tom. That was my characterization of your viewpoint, but if you want to assert something actually different, I'd welcome it.

    If so, however, you need to answer the following question: if "results are not democratic when democratic process is not operating effectively", what measure do you use to determine that, other than what you feel the natural result should be?

    Because based on everything you've written, it looks like the only way you decide "democratic processes" aren't operating "effectively" is that you lose elections. Indeed, the only places you've ever praised as a functioning democracy are countries that have had liberal or european-socialist electoral results you agree with.

    Again, your idea that no right thinking person could ever disagree with your opinion, and therefore must, perforce, be "misinformed", "controlled", "manipulated", "propagandized", or unable to "process information in a reasonable fashion" if they do, does both of you a disservice.

    This is a variant of the "No True Scotsman" logical fallacy. When your assertion that no democratic majority could ever choose conservative ideology runs up against cold hard fact, you decide that it's really no "true" democratic majority.

    I personally would love for the public to be better politically educated, but from my canvassing, it's obvious that many members of the public like their political ignorance just fine, thank you very much. Further, I don't see an appreciable difference in the between happily ignorant crowd between liberals and conservatives, so it wouldn't make much difference anyway.

    And while you may not consider all this "democratic", I remind you that there are a hell of a lot more of people like that than there are political junkies like you and I.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    Chalupas!

    Unlike most threads that die, this discussion has gotten really interesting. For once, though, I'm siding with Steven. The fact that America lacks some of the "requirements" of a properly functioning democracy (requirements that are certainly subject to significant debate) doesn't mean that the results it produces are necessarily undemocratic. They may be more likely to be so, but it's not a certainty. Indeed, I can envision certain policy examples where America would become more conservative if we adhered to every one of the requirements you list above. Having recently spent some time outside of Oregon, I'm reminded of just how unlike the rest of America we are.

    Personally, I'm tired of the constant excuses from the left when we don't win. Sure, one possibility is that the media is conspiring with the corporatists and the military-industrial complex to smother the progressive masses through a sophisticated marketing barrage.

    Another possibility is that our ideas just weren't as persuasive as our opponents. Hard to hear, but probably closer to the truth.

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    I'm not exactly alone in this analysis. It follows Markos Moulitsas' quite closely, who, incidentally, also uses the term "purity troll" to describe members of the counterproductive left more interested in expressing their juvenile alienation than actually doing the adult things necessary to start healing this nation. And for the record, yes, I admit to being curt with these people. Largely, in my experience, they're bohemian middle aged white guys who've never suffered any real privation in their lives, and don't expect to.

    I just wanted to come back to this for a second, because -- aside from perhaps the "bohemian" label -- isn't this description pretty much true of virtually every public commenter of every political stripe? Did George Will, Chris Matthews, Tom Friedman or any of the people who provide what is considered conservative or middle-of-the-road opinion come from backgrounds where they suffered "privation"? Are they actually providing any of the "adult things" needed for healing? Perhaps they're expressing some other aspect of juvenile personality that you just haven't identified. Maybe Will is like one of those uptight, rigid kids who look down their nose at everyone. Perhaps Matthews is one of those insecure guys who tries to cover by being super-exuberant and macho. And Friedman? Well he's the kind of guy whose pervish domination streak comes out in his writing in English class.

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    If you're talking about mainstream media figures, Darrel, then of course the answer is "yes". But I have very low expectations from media infotainment figures, even the one or two that actually lean progressive, like Keith Olbermann. Their job is to attract viewers with free time and disposable income to their network's advertising, largely by providing those viewers with an unending pablum of pandering, self justification, and entertaining distractions. If ever any of them accidentally does better, I'm pleasantly surprised.

    But people who are really suffered in this country occasionally become advocates too. You see them in meetings, or sometimes, military guys especially, running for office. I also meet regular people canvassing, and the stories they tell are often deeply moving and/or horrifying. And I've yet to see the kind of purist attitude from any of them. The election is simply too important for that.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Miles does not believe the results of our elections are "necessarily undemocratic." If this means he does not think it is impossible for an election to reflect the will of the people, then I agree. If I believed US elections were totally without democracy, I would not be a Democratic activist, would not give money to candidates, would not have run for the legislature twice or been active in several ballot measure campaigns. Indeed, if there obviously were no democracy in election results, the natives, who are well-propagandized but not stupid, would rebel. Part of what makes the US political system work is that most citizens believe it is democratic.

    Steven wants to know:

    if "results are not democratic when democratic process is not operating effectively", what measure do you use to determine that, other than what you feel the natural result should be?

    Well, Steven, the functioning of the system is gauged by understanding the principles of a properly functioning system, not by predetermining what the results should be. I talked about some of the those earlier - effective education, diverse and active press, no private concentrations of power that can direct public discourse. Add to these equal access to the ballot, election mechanics that guarantee one-person:one-vote, and equal opportunity to put ideas before the voters. I'll leave it up to readers to study the ways our system is lacking in these requirements of democracy.

    Judgment can be based on how far from proper functioning the system is, what interest groups are able to capitalize on its imbalances, and how the results coincide with the interests of those groups.

    Like baseball, we know how the game should be played. If the umpires do not apply the rules equally to both teams, the game is distorted. If the league allows some teams to carry 30 players on their roster and other teams only 15, the game is distorted. We don't need to know the final score in order to determine this, but if the team whose manager hands the plate umpire an envelope stuffed with money before the first pitch wins almost every time, we can make an informed guess about what is going on.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Regular person Steven would consider a purity troll:

    Ethel Doris Rollins

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    My point, Steve, is that you're going to find those "middle aged white guys" who've never faced any problems in their lives expressing their juvenile problems of one sort or another across the political spectrum, and not just in the public sphere.

    Personally, the people I've found most disgusted by the American political system have been people from blue-collar backgrounds like myself. Not that there aren't plenty of other people of the same ilk who vote Republican or who somewhere in-between.

    There's something about labeling people on the left as cossetted elitists that rankles me, I guess. Perhaps because there's such an old tradition of it, running from at least the early 20th century to the more recent attacks on Obama.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    Judgment can be based on how far from proper functioning the system is, what interest groups are able to capitalize on its imbalances, and how the results coincide with the interests of those groups.

    Except, Tom, you're still assuming causality based only on correlation. Even if you can show that the system isn't functioning properly, how can you know what the "true" outcome would have otherwise been? Just because the outcome coincides with some of the interest groups that you loathe doesn't mean that's not where public opinion really is.

    I think the system reflects the views of the majority over the long run. While it may be susceptible to short-term incongruities, the system becomes unstable if the decisions at the top are radically out of line with the views of the masses. And while you decry the influence of certain interest groups, you're also ignoring the counterbalancing impact that left-leaning special interets have.

    For example, do you really think the majority of Americans would prioritize their rights over their personal safety? Absolutely not. This is an area where if our democracy was truly functioning as you suggest it should, the people would give away those rights in an instant in order to feel safe. It's precisely because our system is undemocratic -- it allows for a small minority of us ACLU types to use institutional tools to slow down the erosion of those rights -- that we still have the rights that we do.

    So be careful what you wish for. You might find in your perfectly functioning democracy that most of the things you hold dear don't look anything like the things that your fellow Americans hold dear.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Miles wrote:

    I think the system reflects the views of the majority over the long run.

    Stalin could have made the same claim, Miles.

    The reality is that there are many people working very hard and spending a lot of money to make sure the system is rigged.

    If public schools were organized to be producers of good citizens as much as good workers, if media ownership rules did not allow a few corporations to control much of the public discussion much of the public is exposed to, if candidates who do not remain within the corporate consensus were not ignored and ridiculed, then public opinion would likely be a lot more progressive.

    Your argument sounds a lot like that of global warming deniers who suggest nothing should be done because we cannot be completely sure that the results we see are caused by the problems under discussion. I believe the climate of the planet is important enough to act without mathematic-level proof of human-caused warming, and I believe democratic governance is important enough to act without mathematic-level proof that election results are effected by deliberate subversion of democratic institutions.

    Again, explaining the totality of the system's distortion and why they promote the interests of warmongers, polluters, authoritarians, exploiters of workers, and other unsavory characters is not something I can do here. Read Herman, Chomsky, Zinn, Bagdikian, Vidal, Parenti, Palast etc. If you want a reading list, I'd be happy to put a short one together.

    If you don't read and your republic be lost, Ain't nobody's fault but yours.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    I have read many of the authors you cite. I just don't happen to agree with all of them. My biggest criticism is that many of their theories involve vast conspiracies -- conspiracies that make Oliver Stone's JFK assassination ideas look downright pedestrian. Truth is, conspiracies like that just don't happen very often, and when they do they never hold together for very long. There are far more parsimonious explanations for most of what is happening, but those explanations require some self-criticism that most on the left aren't willing to engage in.

    Keep in mind, Tom, that I haven't ever suggested we shouldn't take action to improve our system. I suspect you and I would agree on many improvements. However, I'm suggesting that you might be surprised at the results of those improvements. I think you have a very optimistic view of the American people. I applaud that, but I don't share it. I think there are tens of millions of ignorant rubes out there who vote religiously (or even worse, vote their religion), and your call for purification of our democracy means that we reduce the influence of right-wing monied interests along with the influence of left-wing monied interests. On some issues the country would move a bit left, and on some issues the country would move a bit right. I certainly don't think we'd have the progressive revolution that you envision.

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    Miles, first off, I agree with you that there are real issues about left persuasiveness, but in terms of the not-so-left range of Democratic Party ideas, on the whole, I think some of that is almost technical, i.e. is not so much about the content of the ideas, which has at times in the past been persuasive to majorities. There is a degree to which liberals became victims of their own success, in a way, by the 1970s, having changed enough things far enough that new problems or dimensions of problems arose about which they/we didn't have persuasive ways of talking. The kind of thing George Lakoff addresses, not to say he'e the be all and end all.

    BTW I think Chomsky and Hermann at least are part of the problem, maybe Zinn too, though he's a bit more optimistic, but anyway there's a culture on the left-liberal to social democratic to democratic socialist left, whether operating on the margins inside the DP, or in social movements & small parties outside, that confuses "resistance" with winning. As long as we haven't given up, that's a victory, goes the thinking. In a small way that's true. But I also think it reflects a lot of defeats and hammering, including quite successful, repressive and anti-democratic actions from the right that make it possible for folks who come trolling here to say quite seriously, and in other contexts where they aren't trolling, that Jeff Merkley is a radical, or that pro-capitalist liberalism is indistinguishable from Soviet communism.

    Anyway, resistance isn't winning, and while Chomsky has some powerful insights on some things, he's next to useless about what to do about them.

    On the other hand, I don't really buy your "can't tell correlation vs. causation" argument. That's a metaphor drawn from atemporal statistical analysis of associations. It can be partly addressed by historical analysis of a different sort. So for instance, historically, just as we can find the rough outlines of the aggression against Iraq in the writings of the Project for a New American Century, you can go back to the early 1970s and look at the writings of people like Samuel Huntington on how the U.S. was suffering from an excess of democracy, and William Simon on the need to launch what has become the dense network of right-wing propaganda tanks and to attack the colleges and universities, to lay the institutional groundwork for a kulturkampf -- and lo and behold 15-20 years later we have "the culture wars," or the very explicit "defund the left" campaigns of the late '70s and early Reagan years in conservative and Republican circles, or the launch of the idea that "there's too much 'rights' talk," (except when it's property rights or others that we like), or "too much victim politics" (except when we're moaning about the supposedly liberal media or the poor little conservatives oppressed by political correctness and having our ideas disputed); or the conscious development of systematic strategies to violate the law to prevent unions organizing, swallowing eventual losses in protracted appeals of unfair labor practices and treating derisively small fines and back-pay awards to illegally fired pro-union workers as costs of doing business; or the institutional development of media consolidation producing the infotainment culture to which Steve Maurer alluded; or the development of SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) -- on and on.

    The point being that you can trace historical and institutional developments that in some cases overtly and deliberately sought to restrict democracy and participation and roll back the power of democratic forces and the substance of democratic gains (all small 'd') since the new deal, and others, as with media consolidation, that had that effect, though not intention perhaps (thought there is conscious use, once achieved, by the Berlusconis and Murdochs and Clear Channels, and arguably in more limited ways by GE & Westinghouse).

    The other argument against your view is more conditional. It's the kind of polling data that Harry Kershner often cites. Now I've argued against treating the polls where you find 64% of Americans saying we should get completely out of Iraq in 6 months or large majorities favoring government provided health insurance for everyone as reflecting some absolute underlying reality that's being obstructed, because we know that if you change the polling questions you can get very different results, and we know that when these things get taken out into the public arena and fought over, opinions change and votes don't come out reflecting what's in the polls.

    But by the same token, we should not dismiss those polls either, because they tell us that those possibilities are live ideas that in a well-operating, reasonably fair democratic debate would be taken seriously and have a chance, and because we know that they are not merely fantastical because they work quite well in other countries. And it as at that point, the question of really open debates with ideas taken seriously and given fair hearings, that I think there is a serious lack of democracy in the U.S. That can involve Israel and Palestine, where the debate is much freer inside Israel itself than it is here. Or it can involve universal government-funded health insurance, over which media commenters and news editors and producers will twist themselves into pretzels to consider any other possible option and marginalize an eminentl sensible idea, and then say it's politically unrealistic "because nobody believes it can really happen" so they won't give it attention so it's politically unrealistic -- rather than asking, as they do with other proposals, is it functionally realistic, what would its advantages be, and its drawbacks, with full fair comparisons both to the extant system and to other proposals and not some ideal of perfection to which no other proposal is held.

    And at that point I'm not willing to say it's all down to left, progressive, liberal, whatever label failures -- not all that the ideas are bad, not all that our persuasion is bad. It also is IMO an indubitable fact that there are structural institutional obstacles, some of them quite deliberate, that restrict full debate and persuasion, some in the media, some in the operations of the federal government (including some forces in the national Democratic Party), some in the law and its abuses, such as the repression of union organizing under the NLRA as amended, abuses of the FCC and so on.

    Which is why I think we don't have a real national democracy, but a plebiscitary oligarchy, with increasing democracy and transparency as you get closer to the local level, and denser opacity, exclusion of voices, and exclusion of ideas the closer you get to the national level.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Miles,

    I do not think we can predict how politics would change if the founding father's vision of a democratic society were actualized. We can document the expensive efforts of many interests to prevent that society. My guess is that money is not spent on whim, that it is meant a profit generating investment. We can document the huge concentrations of private power the founding fathers considered anathema.

    Conspiracies, eh? That word that closed a million minds. Parenti does talk about them. This is some of what he says:

    Those who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: “Do you actually think there’s a group of people sitting around in a room plotting things?” For some reason that image is assumed to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers. But where else would people of power get together - on park benches or carousels? Indeed, they meet in rooms: corporate boardrooms, Pentagon command rooms, at the Bohemian Grove, in the choice dining rooms at the best restaurants, resorts, hotels, and estates, in the many conference rooms at the White House, the NSA, the CIA, or wherever. And, yes, they consciously plot - though they call it “planning” and “strategizing” - and they do so in great secrecy, often resisting all efforts at public disclosure. No one confabulates and plans more than political and corporate elites and their hired specialists. To make the world safe for those who own it, politically active elements of the owning class have created a national security state that expends billions of dollars and enlists the efforts of vast numbers of people.

    Chomsky, on the other hand, refuses to discuss anything that cannot be documented in the public record, likely because of the sort of dismissal you just made. You can read his work with no risk of being sullied by any conspiracy theorizing.

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    Miles, on conspiracy -- there are interests that people in similar positions share, even if they don't know one another. Some people sometimes organize persons who share those interests, or enough of them, to create lobbies or hire lobbyists. Others don't hear of them much -- but I can tell you that the Washington Wheat Growers' Association, to take an arbitrary example to which I was exposed by marriage but otherwise would not have known, is plenty impressive in how they communicate to their members, and probably how they work in Washington.

    It's not a secret conspiracy, it's not restricted to the right -- another problem with the left is that we operate too much with a consumerist "send your money to this lobby that isn't really accountable to you" culture -- good people all working for the groups, doubtless, but bad for what we need.

    But there really are interests, and they really are organized, and analyzing that isn't the same as those that say "there must be some meaning to this coincidence." And organized interests do actually plan campaigns and try to cause things to happen and prevent things from happening.

    Or read Jeremy Scahill's book on Blackwater and on the merecenary industry. It's not "a conspiracy" -- but it is an organization, with a plan, and a lot of resources and a lot of willingness to use its capacities in unscrupulous and potentially anti-democratic ways.

    There are conspiracies that can't be proven to exist, in many cases because they don't, that exist only at the level of rumor and inference and fabrication and exaggeration. But there are also known (some open, some less so) organizations and institutions in which people with similar interests "conspire" (breathe together) -- organize, plan, coordinate, act. And a lot of them are stacked against democratic participation and full, open debate.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Many of you need to stop copping this elitist, self-congratulatory attitude toward "ordinary people". Most of the time it is the well-educated (by U.S. standards) social managers, e.g., many who post to BO, who are profoundly endoctrinated and confused about the true aims of our nation.

    Most of my friends are working class people who know that the system is fixed in favor of rich business elites, and because of that, they don't even vote, which is an issue that hasn't been addressed by those of you who assume that your class makes better decisions than "today's American Citizen". It is you and the other 50% like you who make electoral decisions, including the choice of right-of-center candidates who don't represent the rest of us.

    The 50% who don't vote at all in U.S. federal elections are demographically similar to European, left-of-center voters who belong to parties that more represent their interests. The people I know who don't vote want less militarism and more social programs, and well designed polls consistently show this. (Chris, you continue to mislead on the value of polling. Of course the way we phrase our questions can bias the outcomes, but we must try to make sense of them anyway. Social science is the tool that we have, so we must use it.)

    Furthermore, the fear of democracy expressed by those of you who seem horrified at the prospect of ordinary people taking the reins of power ignores the reality of the multiple catastrophes that have been brought about by those elites who presently make policy.

    As for Chomsky: he is in favor of democracy, a concept with which many who post to BO would do well to familiarize themselves, and he doesn't believe that he should tell anyone what she should do, but that doesn't mean that he has nothing to say about it. You folks who think he is "pessimistic" or "part of the problem" need to read some more.

    "...there are very serious illusions that there are major efforts to instill. And I don't think they are very hard to dismantle. ...But for elites, they have to believe. They are the ones who are the managers and the directors, whether it's political or economic, or doctrinal managers in universities and media and so on. They got to believe. Otherwise they can't do the job. So they have to be profoundly indoctrinated. Furthermore, it is in their interest to be indoctrinated, they are the ones who gain from these activities." (On War and Activism)

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    Harry Kershner: Most of my friends are working class people who know that the system is fixed in favor of rich business elites, and because of that, they don't even vote

    What you're describing, Harry, is just sampling bias. When you live in an extremely progressive area, all the people you end up talking to are progressives or people further to the left. Add a little conscious or subconscious selection before you do your informal opinion poll of your friends, and you can easily end up believing that "everybody" has beliefs that are actally exceptionally rare in the body politic.

    This is hardly unique on the left. In fact, this bubble mentality seems far more prevalent on the right, especially in many of the theocratic churches whose insular culture tends to shield parishioners from exposure to mainstream culture. And it's been getting worse because of the physical segmentation along political lines has become a huge national trend.

    So let me make it explicit. Your assertion that the vast majority of non-voters have dropped out because they're too leftist to be members of the Democratic party is purely your own wishful thinking. It has no factual basis whatsoever, which you can see from the results of polling, or directly with your own eyes by canvassing by getting on the bus. There's a busproject canvass in Hillsboro coming up this Saturday where you can test these ideas against reality.

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    Tom Civiletti: Regular person Steven would consider a purity troll: Ethel Doris Rollins

    I would? That's news to me.

    I'll admit I didn't know much about her until you provided the link, but advocating for campaign finance reform and her run against a Republican, seem pretty levelheaded to me.

    Oh, and I don't claim to being a "regular person". My experiences talking to people have just left me a little more grounded in basic political reality than some others here.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Yes, Steven, I think that if you knew more about Granny D, you would certainly consider her a purity troll, as least as much as you do Harry Kershner or me.

    Granny D on democracy

    Our Constitution gives us our democratic republic, which has as its intention the fragmentation of power, keeping the exercise of force as close as possible to the human scale, and letting its power accumulate only where absolutely necessary for the common good of the people. The parchment document of the Constitution is not enough --we also require supportive institutions and sacred processes; we need these five things:

    1. We need fair and accurate voting systems that we can trust beyond a shadow of doubt;

    2. We need worthy candidates who represent our interests and values and who are free from entangling financial obligations to special interests;

    3) We need a free press that takes as a sacred trust its duty to inform the citizenry on the great and small issues of the day, regardless of the popular appeal of those stories and regardless of the profitability of providing that coverage;

    4) We must be an unhurried society, with each of us given the time and resources to be active citizens, not mere mice on corporate treadmills;

    5) We must be an educated people, forever students of the vital issues before us, and also of the history, art and literature that shapes our human sensibilities and our civic and cultural values so that, as a self-governing people, we might govern ourselves well. Our schools must produce citizens. Our immigrant arrivals must be made into citizens, as well.

    In many of these five areas, we are now in trouble. The stakes are very high, for the monster of force is never far from the door. It comes in quickly. If I told you that an unrepentant U.S. Navy seriously roughed up a Member of Congress because he was peacefully protesting, or that a building full of people who were making political puppets were summarily arrested and taken away, or that people walking calmly down the street near a political convention were arrested and brutalized for two weeks, what country would you think you were in? If I told you that I was arrested for calmly reciting the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Capitol building, and that I cried when the police tried to pull from my finger a wedding ring that had not been removed in sixty years, where would you think you were? All these things --and many more-- have happened under the American flag within the last twelve months.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    The point being that you can trace historical and institutional developments that in some cases overtly and deliberately sought to restrict democracy and participation. . .

    Chris, I have to admit to some confusion. Many of the developments that you cite -- such as the writings of the Project for a New American Century and Huntington, the creation of a network of conservative think tanks, and the pushback in the 1970s on the dominant liberal culture -- are legitimate activities in any democracy. There's nothing subversive about organizing around a political viewpoint and working to further it. The fact that the right is far more effective in doing this than the left is a testament to their strength, not a legitimate criticism.

    There have been real historical attempts to subvert democracy, such as Hoover's FBI, COINTELPRO, and more recent attempts by the Bush Administration to bring politically motivated criminal charges against certain Democrats, but it's worth noting that each of these cases is really the result of a handful of government officials who, once in power, abused their authority. That's been going on since civilization formed, and I think it's of a different nature than the dark, sophisticated cabals that Tom seems to be positing.

    The other argument against your view is more conditional. It's the kind of polling data that Harry Kershner often cites

    But as you've pointed out, the day after you show me a poll that says 60% support single-payer health care, I can show you a poll that shows 65% oppose a government-run health system. I would also suggest that if you did a poll asking people to define single-payer health care, less than 30% of Americans could actually do it. So I don't put much faith in any of these numbers.

    As to the larger issue, though, of whether the public debate is somehow tainted, it is. Specifically on health care, there is a general belief that single-payer is unworkable. But that belief didn't arise out of nothing. It wasn't created by shady characters in a boardroom, or by lazy editors in the newsroom. It is the result of years of analysis by health care experts on the right and the left. Since I think you have a background in health policy, you must know that the complexities of switching the US to such a system would tax the greatest minds of our generation. Single-payer is a perfect example of an idea that makes total sense in theory and yet cannot be accomplished in practice without incredible cost (both economic and social) to the country. It is politically unrealistic NOT because some media elites said it is, but because politically no one is willing to layoff hundreds of thousands of people in the insurance industry (mostly low-wage accountants, claims techs and reviewers), impose the taxes necessary to fund the system, and dramatically restrict the medical choices that the 82% of Americans with insurance currently have.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    But there are also known (some open, some less so) organizations and institutions in which people with similar interests "conspire" (breathe together) -- organize, plan, coordinate, act. And a lot of them are stacked against democratic participation and full, open debate.

    It seems as though both you and Tom are defining down "conspiracy" so that it basically includes any group of citizens who get together to talk about taking political action. That may be technically correct, but it makes the word pretty much worthless. Under that definition, most of us are guilty. The ACLU, which meets in secret to plot its legal strategy, is clearly guilty of conspiring to overturn the decisions of legitimately elected public officials. But christ, that's exactly why I give them money!

    What Parenti is asserting is that there is a widespread, planned effort to subvert democracy in corporate boardrooms across America and at the highest levels of government. And that idea is patently absurd. The left uses such theories to explain away inconvenient truths that would otherwise force them to challenge their assumptions. For instance, how in the world could we have lost the 2004 election, given that the vast majority of Americans agree with our progressive viewpoint? It must be the result of the powerful subverting our democracy, because it couldn't possibly be that the vast progressive majority doesn't exist.

    The damage this does to the progressive movement cannot be understated. We refuse to learn from our mistakes. We do not rethink and reframe our issues so that they are more palatable to the masses. We do not question our assumptions. And that is the main reason we keep losing.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Miles wrote:

    What Parenti is asserting is that there is a widespread, planned effort to subvert democracy in corporate boardrooms across America and at the highest levels of government. And that idea is patently absurd.

    Absurd? Miles, you either are not paying attention or wear an effective set of blinders. They do not need to issue memoranda on "Ending Democracy in America" to work to that end in the normal course of maximizing profits. Remember these fellows?:

    I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country . . .Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices ofpeople until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
    --Abraham Lincoln, 1864

    Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. -- Theodore Roosevelt, 19-Apr-06

    Perhaps they were all nutty conspiracy theorists, eh?

    The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling power. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.
    -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a huge arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, and even spiritual—is felt in every city, every state house, and every office of the federal government. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought orunsought, by the military-industrial complex. -- President Dwight D. Eisenhower

    The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media. --Former CIA Director William Colby

    I spent 33 years in the Marines. Most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short,I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909–1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. --U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, in CommonSense, November 1935

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Miles: Chris and you make a similar argument: Because polls that ask questions in different ways produce different outcomes, that must mean that polls are meaningless. That's not how social scientists look at it.

    When analyzing poll data, the way questions are asked is an important determinant of how meaning is attributed to them. If we ask, for example, if people want "socialized medicine", we are obviously asking a question that the propaganda machine has prejudiced. So, if we want to know what kind of system people really want, we have to ask the question in a way that will allow them to give unprejudiced answers. How else will we know what people think if we don't seek some systematic way of measuring it?

    The "general belief that single-payer is unworkable" is not the general belief of the rest of the industrialized world. And any single payer plan that's worth its salt has a mechanism to deal with the loss of jobs by those already in the industry. I'm not a policy wonk, so I don't have the details for you, but there is plenty written on the subject, including the valuable resources at PHNP.

    59% of U.S. physicians disagree with you; the problem is political will, not the lack of a reasonable plan.

    Steven: You need some reading lessons. I have disagreements with people like Miles or Chris, but they understand what I'm saying. You don't.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Tom C: I admire the historical breadth of your argument.

    Not all conspiracy theories are looney. In fact, by the definition of paranoid delusion that I learned, the belief that there are no conspiracies is paranoid.

    And just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there's no one out to get you.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    What concerns me most is the effectiveness of the US corporate propaganda system at convincing us to ignore it. Miles is obviously an intelligent person who pays attention to current events, but he believes it is "absurd" to suggest that corporate officers and employees conspire to subvert democracy, even though several presidents - more than I quoted - have warned of that, many books have been written documenting such action and corporations behave in ways that suggest that such planning has gone on. And Miles is not atypical. As Harry mentioned, it is professional and managerial people who are most likely to accept corporate propaganda as truth, because to reject it makes doing their jobs problematic. Orwell understood this when he wrote 1984. The proles paid little attention to Big Brother, unlike party members who were expected to talk and act in accordance with the day's orthodoxy.

    Those who take part in electoral politics are also more likely to buy in, simply because it is more difficult to motivate oneself to take part in a process one realizes is compromised - that the game is not played on a level field.

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    Miles, I didn't say the things I cited were illegal or ineffective, I said that they were openly and explicitly anti-democratic in motivation.

    As to single payer healthcare, you are claiming that the system itself is "unworkable." Clearly that is wrong. The major difficulties you cite are difficulties of transition. Those are real.

    Yet the same experts whom you cite also say that the costs of "healthcare" under the current system are unsustainable, i.e. that the current system is unworkable. More and more organizations and individuals are coming to agree, as employment provided health insurance increasingly is hollowed out in benefits with greater and greater proportions of costs being shifted to employees.

    Now, I have some difficulty at one level understanding why the same kind of private enterprise / free market advocates who would say it's fine if "the market" decides to shift manufacturing overseas and turn the U.S. into a service economy, or it's fine if Americans decide to spend more one kind of thing and less on another than historically, suddenly go into conniptions if the proportion of national spending going to healthcare services rises.

    However, my feeling that it may be entirely appropriate for people to decide to spend more on healthcare is tempered by the question of actual health work, as opposed to administrative tasks of an unwieldy and unfair system.

    A good deal of the administrative processes involve keep track of opaque and unfair pricing policies where different prices are charged for the same services depending on the market power of the entities negotiating with providers.

    Further, the idea that the current system gives most individuals a great deal of choice is simply fallacious.

    The question of job loss is one that is concerning to me, but again I find it hypocritical in the mouths of most who speak it, who in other contexts say that workers who lose jobs to greater efficiency, whether it be the application of new technologies or shifting of jobs to other less labor expensive locations, just have to suck it up.

    As the single payer movement continues to gain traction, I believe it will need to provide plans for transition. A considerable proportion I believe could be absorbed by the expansion of actual service delivery, including preventive and maintenance programs as well as "treatment" of illness as currently understood and where most people in the field agree that the proportion of dollar investment ought to be inverted. One of the great drivers of rising healthcare costs is increasingly expensive treatment technologies. That could be mitigated if more effective approaches were used to implementing prevention, and for maintaining treatments at lower cost and intensity levels by more effective disease management to slow the progression of chronic diseases.

    Much of such work will probably go on in clinic settings of a sort that are only currently being developed in an unsystematic and haphazard way. Actively engaging people in prevention, health maintenance and disease management will actually involve quite a bit of administration at different levels of skill and complexity, in addition to the direct services of medical personnel. Shifting administrative personnel from administering arcane, health- and cost-inefficient, unfair, systemically fragmented and incomplete financial processes to administering the organization of effective health care could meet a good deal of the employment problem while improving the system from the points of view of reduced fragmentation, fullness of reach, and effectiveness of care.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    but he believes it is "absurd" to suggest that corporate officers and employees conspire to subvert democracy, even though several presidents - more than I quoted - have warned of that, many books have been written documenting such action and corporations behave in ways that suggest that such planning has gone on.

    Maybe we need to better define "conspiracy to subvert democracy". What exactly are you referring to? The claims always seem to be amorphous. For instance, if you're referring to actions that a corporation takes to protect its interests, which may be different than the public interest, of course that happens. And I would argue that a corporate board of directors has the same right to petition the government as you or I do. Of course there are issues of access and it's appropriate to have safeguards in place that ensure a reasonably level playing field, and transparency in government is essential to ensure that we know who is petitioning the government and why. But there's nothing nefarious about such action by a corporation.

    Instead, if you're referring to a Diebold-type conspiracy, where some on the left are convinced that a private corporation is colluding with Republican officials at the highest levels to purposefully design and implement a corrupt voting system that will ensure Republican dominance for a generation, then I have to say you're off your rocker. That's the stuff of fiction and movies, not reality.

    I found the quotes you cited interesting, but also see them for what they are: populist calls for support from presidents with a political agenda. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but American presidents have been creating strawmen enemies designed to rally the public since, well, the late 1700s.

    If such conspiracies to subvert democracy actually existed, they would involve thousands of people over the last 200 years. So how is it that in all that time, with all those people, no one has ever turned snitch? No one has ever had second thoughts, or infiltrated the conspiracy in order to expose it, or accidentally written down the famed "Memo to Subvert Democracy." Isn't it just a tad unrealistic to believe that the conspirators are flawless in their execution?

    I think what you are actually referring to are the occasional bad actions of bad people. These happen, and we must remain vigilant against them. But you don't do progressives any favors by hyperbolizing those actions into something much larger than they really are.

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    Miles, did you ever read The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter (ca. 1965) -- an interesting reflection inspired by McCarthyism, Birchers, and probably the responses to the Warren Commission.

    A grad school teacher of mine, David Brion Davis, wrote a nifty little book (one of those that's a complilation of a set of three lectures) called The Slave Power Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style (1970) analyzing how intensifying rhetoric in the ante-bellum North and South of the other side as engaged in a monstrous conspiracy to do down the way of life of our side contributed to the drive to Civil War ideologically.

    At about the same time Davis published a collection of documents about ten or so theorized conspiracies across U.S. history, beginning with the confict with France in the 1790s that led to the Alien & Sedition Acts, running through conspiratorial views of the Black Power movement of the day.

    As to Diebold, I've been skeptical that the company has done anything, but it does seem that the machines can be hacked, and there is a simple confidence issue that also affect mechanical means of voting, and history is replete with ballot box stuffing conspiracies etc.

    More serious IMO in the recent U.S. have been voting suppression efforts, illegal and marginally legal (like not Ken Blackwell the secretary of state in Ohio not supplying enough ballots to black communities in Cleveland) that count as conspiracies in my book.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    In the legal sense, conspiracy is people planning together to break the law. Business and it's allies do that. They also plan and execute plans to undermine democracy and the Constitution in ways that are not illegal. This is often the case because these folks have such influence over the machinery of government that it is difficult to outlaw want they want to do.

    I am concerned about the kinds of things that concerned Lincoln, the Roosevelt cousins and Eisenhower. I am concerned about the activities that CIA director Colby and General Butler admitted. Compared to the time of the founding of the republic, there are tremendous concentrations of private economic power and few mechanisms to prevent this power from being used to subvert democratic governance. This influence is so huge and so pervasive that it is difficult to perceive, especially when the "mainstream" media guard against such perception and ignore or deride anyone with the temerity to discuss the unmentionable.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    As to single payer healthcare, you are claiming that the system itself is "unworkable." Clearly that is wrong.

    With regard to this interesting tangent, I should have been more clear that I mean it's unworkable in America, for reasons of transition, cost, and culture.

    Regarding transition, no country that I am aware of has implemented a single-payer type system after decades of an employer-based system. Those countries that have them generally started decades ago, when medical care was radically different than it is today. The US could have implemented single payer in the 1960s or maybe even the 1970s with some moderate but tolerable disruption. Today the disruption is too large. Which is not to say that we can't eventually get there. Health reform plans such as Wyden's and even Obama's build on the strengths of the existing system while moving us closer to single payer. If Wyden succeeds, I can see a time -- probably 30-50 years down the road -- where we could take the next and probably final step towards national health care. But not without a decades-long transition.

    As for cost, one of the most compelling arguments for single-payer is that it will save hundreds of billions in administrative costs. What I think you're arguing above, however, is that in order to ease the transition we might look at whether we can shift the administrative costs from non-productive activity (claims review, coordination of benefits) to productive activity (disease management, prevention, health maintenance). While I applaud your creativity, you've also knocked one of the support pillars out from beneath single-payer. It will be very hard to radically reform the system if in the end it will cost even more.

    But the most important barrier in my mind is culture. A dominant value in American culture (for better and worse) is individual freedom. You disagree that the current system gives individuals a great deal of choice, but don't explain why. I think the current system does give the insured more choice than their peers have in other industrialized countries. And that choice is a major driver of our health care costs. But it's also so deeply ingrained that I don't think most Americans will support a system that curtails it.

    I'll make it personal because I think that's how people are going to judge health reform. My daughter has a rare genetic disorder. It's not serious now, and may never be, but has the potential to develop into something serious. It requires routine screening during childhood. In the US, the AAP recommends screening no less than every three months until age 8. Advocates suggest every 6 to 12 weeks. Our pediatrician has issued a standing order for the screening at our local hospital. We had one slightly abnormal test and she sent us back for an additional screening 4 weeks later. Our insurance covers all the tests.

    In the UK, they pay for screenings for the same condition every 4 months until age 5. It's not clear if you can pay privately for more frequent screenings, but if so you definitely pay for them out of pocket, and there is the possibility that by doing so you'll have to pay for ALL future screenings yourself.

    Clinically, the NHS isn't out of line. Evidence as to the efficacy of screening more often than every four months and after age 5 is mixed. The NHS decision weighs the societal cost of the additional screening against the societal benefit. But as a parent, I don't give a damn about any of that. I want to craft a screening plan for my daughter based on the advice of her doctors. And I want her screened until age 8, because I'm not willing to risk her life based on mixed data.

    Under single payer, that freedom is greatly reduced and in some cases taken away. Why do Europeans and Canadians put up with it? Because it's part of their culture. Are they better off as a result? Probably on a societal level, yes. But we are culturally different, for better or for worse, and that can't be ignored when looking at health reform.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    <h2>More serious IMO in the recent U.S. have been voting suppression efforts</h2>

    In the legal sense, conspiracy is people planning together to break the law. Business and it's allies do that. They also plan and execute plans to undermine democracy and the Constitution in ways that are not illegal.

    I don't disagree with either of these comments. But I also don't see these types of conspiracies as being able to fundamentally change the direction of the country, which is (I think) how we orginally started. These are bad acts, and they have an impact. But in order to take the country in a direction that the majority does not approve of, such conspiracies would have to be 1,000 times larger and more complex. In the aggregate and over time, I think we get leadership that is roughly in line with public thinking, regardless of the countervailing forces at work.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    An analysis by the far left USA Today (Web of board members ties together Corporate America) found a high degree of interlocking relationships among corporations. Major banks are at the center of many of the overlapping ties.

    Highly interlocked corporations enforce ideological discipline in the corporate community. Also important are "campaign contributions", i.e., legalized bribery, and corporate trade associations and organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers, The Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and the Business Roundtable, which constitute a policy-formation network at the national level.

    To understand the system of anti-democratic control exercised by corporations and their political lackies requires the kind of normal skepticism and analytical skills that almost all people have.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    The John Birch Society was an almost inevitable outgrowth of the mainstream [that is, government and big business] sponsored anti-communist paranoia following WWII. Propaganda does not affect everyone in the same way.

    Not all right-wing fears are paranoid. Longstanding concerns with the power of the Federal Reserve are, from what I have gathered, quite well founded. The Federal Reserve is an extra-democratic government institution that has tremendous power over the direction of the US economy. It is, almost by definition, a tool of the ultra-wealthy elite. It is the creation of conspiracy, though much of it of the legal variety.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    I should have written:

    The Federal Reserve is an extra-democratic government-created and sanctioned institution....

  • Miles (unverified)
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    Ooh, Tom, you make the Fed sound so nefarious! Yet it would come as a shock to my friend who took classes from Ben Bernanke at Princeton that her revered mentor, who encouraged her to pursue economics, is really a pawn of the ultra-wealthy elite in their plot to overthrow American democracy.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Miles: Taiwan's Single Payer System: A Phenomenal Success!

    Competition in a publicly funded healthcare system

    Comparing Health Care in the U.S. vs. Canada

    A single-payer system can be formulated in a variety of ways. Your fear that your daughter's condition will not be adequately treated under such a system is understandable, but it seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. Once we decide to embark on such an undertaking, we can tweak it to satisfy reasonable expectations.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Miles,

    I doubt Bernanke could accurately be called a pawn. He's a rook, at the least. Here's something for your supposedly naive friend:

    SECRETS OF THE TEMPLE: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country

    DIRTY SECRETS OF THE TEMPLE

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    I also recommend Bill Greider's Secrets of the Temple.

    A lot of people who talk about the Fed are steeped in bizarre conspiracy theories. Greider skillfully knocks all that down with argument and evidence - but then discusses what the real powers of the Fed actually are... which are sometimes even scarier.

    On a personal note, I had the excellent opportunity to pick him up from LAX and deliver him to a speech at USC when I was a student there. He may be a bigtime smart guy for Rolling Stone, but he was down-to-earth and friendly with the kids, too...

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Way back on 6/24, Tom C asked, "Did I miss the post about Obama selling out to to AIPAC? The post-primary move to the center[sic] is accelerating. It will not be long before "hope" is but a glimmer and "change" is nothing but a less steep descent into hell."

    Phyllis Bennis (ON PALESTINE: CHANGING THE DISCOURSE) shows that the Obama sellout is far to the right of a newly forming international consensus:

    "Certainly the usual triumphalism of the AIPAC conference, with its annual parade of politicians making obeisance to Israeli occupation and apartheid policies did not change. But the... media coverage...actually acknowledged and gave voice to the nakba as a legitimate component of the narrative...The shift in discourse is huge, reflecting the massive change in public discussion of this issue that has been underway for the past year or more...", a "change", unfortunately, which has been obstructed by Obama's right-wing campaign.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Palestine is one issues Democrats do want get into. Most progressive Democrats hold opinions in line with the international consensus - that Israel has legitimate security concerns, but that treating the Palestinians like animals while following a disingenuous line on negotiations is not an acceptable way to address those security concerns. US politics, on the other hand, is captive to a Likud orthodoxy that leads no where but diplomatic stalemate and inhumane occupation of Palestine.

    The treatment of Jimmy Carter when when Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was released and again when he met with Hamas shows just how out of balance US discussion of the issue is. Obama is playing it safe, moving from a position closer to the international consensus to one as hardline as Shrub and H. Clinton. Would Obama return to a more balanced view if elected, I cannot say. I certainly hope so. The living conditions of Palestinians are deplorable, and current US behavior is a necessary enabler of the Israeli policies creating those conditions.

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    Miles,

    The current focus of the single payer movement, HR 676, is premised on using the insurance plan offered to federal government employees as its basis.

    Britain's NHS is as you doubtless know a national state healthcare delivery system, not an insurance system.

    Probably the place I would look that would offer the fairest comparisons would be France. (Germany is a good comparison and to a degree a model for Wyden-type plans, although it involves an interesting type of provider (doctors) collective bargaining not to be found in the U.S.).

    Canada is interesting, but because of the way it was formed (province by province, with some significant differences) and because Conservative national governments have been throwing more and more of the costs back onto the provinces, where they face somewhat related kinds of problems that state-level problems that arise around state-level efforts toward universality or childhood universality in the U.S. Some of the anti-Canadian propaganda anecdotes that are popular in the U.S. derive from this systematic sapping of the system for a number of years. Still, Canadians express much greater satisfaction with their system than U.S. Americans do with ours (and V.A. system users much more than private sector users inside the U.S.)

    My experience with the U.S. system is that my choice has been constrained by what my employer or my school has offered. It can be a good plan or a not so good one; how much I have to pay vs. employer contribution is also not up to me except sometimes in choices of level of deductible. In addition to the absolutely uninsured, there are a great many Americans who are paying more and more for less and less, at levels that interfere with other needs.

    If we were to compare what would be covered regarding your daughter across a number of employer plans in Portland, there likely would be considerable variation in how often they would pay for the testing, what proportion of the costs, and conceivably even different pricing for the same services depending on the negotiations by the employer's insurance contractor with providers. You would be stuck with whatever version was offered by your particular employer.

    Wyden's plan has the virtue of being like Germany's in that while employers and employees make payroll based contributions (the system evolved out of a wider set of social insurances that go back to that famous socialist Otto von Bismarck), employees may be members of any one of the "sickness funds" they wish, which, like HAPI (ych) Plans for Wyden, are tightly constrained as to minimum benefits and limits on copays and deductibles. The "sickness funds" are not-for-profit entities.

    Personally, if the people of the United States want to choose to spend more on healthcare (actual healthcare) as opposed to say motorboats, all-terrain vehicles, or books, I am not quite sure why that choice should be denigrated when all others are exalted.

    And I am not sure why if the government creates jobs that are held to be of questionable efficiency they get called make-work jobs and that's a bad thing, but when the health sector does the same thing with hugely inefficient, incomplete and fragmented private bureaucracies, that's o.k.

    You say that what I was talking about would cost more. I don't think it would, over time. A universal, non-fragmented system that focused on prevention and early intervention would involve less use of expensive technologies that are among the great drivers of rising health-care costs.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    The current focus of the single payer movement, HR 676, is premised on using the insurance plan offered to federal government employees as its basis.

    Having been in FEHBP, it's a good insurance plan. Employees are subsidized and have a huge menu of choices, which contributes to the high satisfaction rate. The difficulties of opening FEHBP are: 1) negatively impacting the existing risk pool, raising overall premiums, and 2) figuring our where the subsidies are going to come from, since it's an unaffordable plan to pay for on your own. I'm sure HR 676 deals with all of this, but they're not small hurdles.

    Such a plan also doesn't get you the administrative savings which are so essential to making single-payer financially viable. I just don't think you can keep the existing inefficiencies (which FEHBP has just like other insurance plans), add 47 million people, and call it good.

    A universal, non-fragmented system that focused on prevention and early intervention would involve less use of expensive technologies that are among the great drivers of rising health-care costs.

    All good things, but they're not going to result in lower costs. Popular rhetoric notwithstanding, preventive measures on a societal level improve life but usually increase costs. It's easy to point to the person in the late stages of a horrible disease and say "See, for $100 we could have tested him 5 years ago and prevented this." But for every disease you catch, you test thousands that turn up nothing. As this NEJM article points out: Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not. Careful analysis of the costs and benefits of specific interventions, rather than broad generalizations, is critical.

    With universal coverage, many more people will be getting the preventive tests and screenings that the rest of us take for granted. That will improve (and maybe save) their lives, but it will be more expensive, not less.

    If we were to compare what would be covered regarding your daughter across a number of employer plans in Portland, there likely would be considerable variation

    Absolutely. My point wasn't so much to talk about my own insurance coverage and compare it to single payer. It was to point out that even if I had bad coverage, I have the freedom to get my daughter the kind of treatment that I want her to have (although I might have to pay for it). In most government-run systems, you don't have that freedom, and for good reason. You cannot have a universal system where the wealthy can opt in and out whenever they want because it violates the core values of fairness and equity. Instead, they generally have rules that say if you opt out, you pay for all your treatment yourself. That kind of control is NECESSARY to make these systems work. I'm suggesting that Americans are culturally far less willing to accept such restrictions than Canadians, Brits, or Germans. Absent such restrictions, you won't end up with single-payer, you'll end up with a two or three-tiered system where the poorest and sickest are on the public system, and the healthier and wealthier are in their own risk pools.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Tom C said, "Obama is playing it safe, moving from a position closer to the international consensus [on Palestine] to one as hardline as Shrub and H. Clinton."

    Like the debates on impeachment, FISA, Iraq occupation, health care, corporate welfare, etc., this presumes that the "safe" move is to the right of the majority. This makes no sense to me, so I don't buy it. The would-be-emperor is really wearing no clothes.

    The American people want even-handedness, so what is required is for Obama to make a clear argument that supports the majority opinion. He should also argue that our current position endangers us all, since our enemies in the Middle East are using it to recruit terrorists. This is so obvious that it's hardly worth repeating.

    I hope that you folks are following the Seymour Hersh revelations about DP complicity in war on Iran (Congress Agreed to Bush Request to Fund Major Escalation in Secret Operations Against Iran). It's getting more and more difficult for progressive Democrats to argue that there is a difference on foreign policy between the two hegemonist parties.

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    The Germans don't have single payer, they have multiple "sick fund" payers, and they actually do have a two tiered system, in which people may opt out into a private insurance market if they earn above a certain income level. Only a minority of those eligible to opt out do so.

    I am not convinced that the Canadians are so very different from the U.S. culturally. There may be a different problem which is antis playing three card monte with "choice," "delays" and so on using anecdotes and misrepresentations. People in your situation who didn't have the means wouldn't be able to pay for a child's treatment, something which in fact happens all the time in the U.S. system.

    My primary concern is with the health efficiency of the system, not with costs, though that is an important secondary issue. It is particularly important where high costs go to pay for inefficiencies that don't deliver improved health or coverage. But as I said before, I don't actually understand why, if people choose paying for healthcare as a priority, we should decide that the market is suddenly wrong about that, but not about their other spending preferences and priorities.

    However, I also think we may mean different things by "preventive" care. I don't mean shotgun screening tests, or earlier "treatments," not primarily. I mean interventions in the processes of preventable and manageable chronic diseases that could be affected by social support for healthier living provided by more regular involvement with the health system, involving substantial institutional innovations.

    My understanding is different from yours, apparently, about a number of cost issues. The ineffiencies don't arise just out of the insurance plans, but out of their interaction with provider overhead relating to dealing with multiple payers and with multiple pricing rates negotiated among the multiiple payers and providers. If doctors and hospitals (and a much increased number of clinics) had to deal with a single payer, the parts of their overheads that go to keeping track of all the billing complexities would dramatically diminish, affecting what they billed FEHBP/National Health Insurance. On the insurer side, restrictions on exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and limitation of reimbursement variation mainly to a geographic ratings system would also mean that costs FEHBP has "just like any other insurer" would not persist in the same way.

    Your idea that a transition may come in steps may well be right, though your timeline isn't, the current system will collapse before then. I am not sure why you say the transition would have been easier in the 1970s -- not politically, multiple efforts at the time failed in part because of short-sighted corporate opposition to social wages that are now coming home to roost.

    But part of that issue involves having a political will to be open to transition. The worst thing about Wyden's approach is his reinforcement of the idea that only private methods are acceptable. John Edwards' plan had provisions that would allow or even encourage public-private competition. If Wyden's plan allowed for such competition it would be much better, creating a pathway to transition to single payer if (or IMO as) the need became even clearer, or (if I am wrong) not.

    However, a key element of "culture" is not actually the preferences of health consumers but that of those who to a substantial degree control the terms of the debate. As long as they go on saying "not possible, not realistic, not possible," and as long as informed people to whom they listen to some degree don't challenge that to say, open up the debate fully, go into single payer in the same way as others, hold the others up to the same standards as single payer, it will prolong the potential timelines of a transition.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Harry,

    If our electoral system were sane, I would agree with you. Americans support evenhandedness, if they are given good enough information to recognize it. On Palestine/Israel, they are not. What Americans hear from the corporate media and their elected officials is extremely distorted and framed in a way that defines Palestinians as terrorists and Israelis as victims, no matter how many of the former are killed by the latter. Then there is our wonderful campaign finance system, which allows well funded minorities with strong opinions to bribe candidates. And, do not forget the electoral college, which can make minority groups in swing states [like Florida] into king-makers.

    That liberal paper of record, the New York Times, would crucify any presidential candidate with an evenhanded view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Tom - What you seem to be saying is that Obama can't possibly do the right thing, even though it is in our own security interests, because "a well-funded minority" (which controls the NYT and dominates elections in Florida) is bribing him.

    Got any spare "change"?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Harry,

    My desire would be for Obama to defy AIPAC and its toadies. Dennis Kucinich would have done so as nominee. Although I have never expected that kind of principled stand from Obama [or Clinton], Obama did make statements earlier in the campaign that hinted at a balanced view. It looks as though that was the primary campaign position, one taken to please the progressive base.

    Of course, AIPAC's minions in the corporate media extend way beyond the NYT. Is there a daily editorial board, a news magazine beyond the lefty Nation, Z Mag, Progressive, In These Times, etc., or a TV network news department that strays from the US orthodoxy on Palestine?

    That bulwark of propaganda leads me to understand Obama's reversal of direction on the Palestinian question, but I hardly approve of it.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Tom - "AIPAC's minions" are not the reason for U.S. imperialism, nor for the ideological discipline of the corporate media. You should re-read Manufacturing Consent.

    Perhaps the greatest irony of Obama's pandering at the AIPAC convention is that it has lent credence to claims of Jewish domination, including among those I know on the Portland "left". (Last week, a woman who I had thought was an ally told me that Novick lost because of "Jewish money" - this is the kind of "analysis" you get when Democrats acquiesce to the Reich.)

  • Miles (unverified)
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    People in your situation who didn't have the means wouldn't be able to pay for a child's treatment, something which in fact happens all the time in the U.S. system.

    Of course. I'll be the first to argue the inequity of our current system. But recognizing the inequity is one thing, giving up your right to purchase the best health care for your child is another. Single-payer proposes that people like me give up certain benefits for the greater good. When you're talking about increasing my taxes, I'm on board. When you're talking about taking away my right to buy a gas-guzzler, I'm on board. When you're talking about taking away my right to dump waste in the rivers or chop down trees, I'm on board. But when you talk about decreasing the level of health care that my daughter receives, you've lost my support. And since I figure I'm to the left of about 75% of Americans, I'm suggesting that such a proposal is dead on arrival.

    Perhaps we can craft a single-payer system that doesn't have such controls, but I'm skeptical. This is why I support "hybrid" plans that move us towards a more nationalized system while retaining many of the current features -- inefficient as they may be.

    It's not always simple obstructionism to say something is politically unrealistic. It is often advice that is intended to avoid a prolonged battle that will almost certainly be lost. If you're crafting a reform proposal, you can either spend your limited time crafting the theoretically perfect plan that has little political support, or you can craft the 2nd or 3rd best option that has enough support to pass. Yes, it would be nice if the political landscape changed, but we've been waiting for that for a long time. Here we are, 15 years after Clinton's plan failed with little progress made. I prefer the less risky (and less effective) middle-of-the-road approach than spending another 15 years with nothing.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Merely asserting that "something is politically unrealistic" doesn't make it so. It would appear that there is a deep democracy deficit between what the people want and what the political managers are willing to give them.

    from: Americans Don't Want Single-Payer Health—Except They Do:

    "In a recent CNN poll (5/4-5/6/07), 64 percent of respondents supported the idea that 'government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes.' And a recent CBS/New York Times poll (2/23-27/07) found 64 percent support for the idea that the federal government should 'guarantee health insurance for all,' and 60 percent supported paying higher taxes to provide such coverage. Additionally, 50 percent believed 'fundamental changes' to the healthcare system were necessary, and another 40 percent thought the country needed to 'completely rebuild' the system."

    from: Herman; The Propaganda Model: A Retrospective:

    "In the health insurance controversy of 1992-1993, the media's refusal to take the single-payer option seriously, despite apparent widespread public support and the effectiveness of the system in Canada, served well the interests of the insurance and medical service complex (Canham-Clyne 1994). The uncritical media reporting and commentary on the alleged urgency of fiscal restraint and a balanced budget in the years 1992-1996 fit well the business community's desire to reduce the social budget and weaken regulation. The applicability of the propaganda model in these and other cases, including the 'drug wars,' seems clear."

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Harry's analysis of the healthcare debate is right on, I think. Intense propaganda is the reason for the dissonance in Americans' answers to polling on healthcare. Americans like single-payer, but not if it's socialized medicine.

    Our "objective" mainstream media has no problem covering healthcare without noticing this inconsistency. This should not be surprising. They still talk about Saddam Hussein's ejection of UN weapon inspectors as pretext to the US invasion. The ejection, of course, was imaginary.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Miles wrote:

    What Parenti is asserting is that there is a widespread, planned effort to subvert democracy in corporate boardrooms across America and at the highest levels of government. And that idea is patently absurd.

    The late, great George Carlin disagreed.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Obama's Rightward Lurch

    "Progressives were all too eager to overlook the warning signs in Obama's brief career, his support for the Patriot Act, for nuclear power, his vote against limiting credit card interest to 30%, his calls for increased defense spending, and his equivocation on full withdrawal from Iraq. These decisions were mere matters of political expediency, we were assured, not to be taken seriously.

    Yet how can political expediency explain Obama's retreat on NAFTA? Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania are all in play - how many of those voters have been broken on the wheel of NAFTA? Those who contend that the real Obama will suddenly emerge after the election to overturn an imperial foreign policy and to bring justice to the home front, might be advised not to hold their breath."

    An Opportunity to Open Presidential Debates

    "The corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates -- which was set up by former chairs of the major parties and their big-media allies to limit access to the most important forums for presidential nominees -- has made mockery of the democratic process. And some, admittedly very foolish people, have actually convinced themselves that one-on-one "debates" organized by party insiders to fit the schedules of friendly television networks are meaningful."

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